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May Day Traditions

01 May 2017

Updated 04/04/2024


May Day is celebrated on the first Monday in May. The spring celebration which marks the beginning of the warmer seasons, traditionally involves Maypole dancing, flower garlands, picnics, the green man, Morris dancing, the crowning of a May Queen and village fetes and gatherings.

However, each city has their own individual way of celebrating.



In Hasting they put on a 4-day Jack in the Green festival, with the finale occurring on May Day.

It’s a huge costume parade centred around the symbolic figure of Jack in the Green. It celebrates the traditions and history of May Day with different music, dances, characters and additional events for all the family to enjoy.



Padstow in Cornwall has held the same May Day celebrations for centuries and is known as The Padstow Obby Oss (Hobby Horse) Festival. It begins at midnight on 30th April with singing which continues around the town until the early hours of the morning. The whole town is beautifully decorated in flowers and springtime greenery and Obby Oss’s are paraded around town whilst revellers dance through the streets accompanied by music and singing. The festival then ends around the Maypole.



In Edinburgh, on the evening of May eve, Beltane Fire Festival takes place on Calton Hill. The procession is led by the May Queen and the Green Man as they perform to their audience down the path, meeting different groups of characters on the way. After a stage performance, the two leads then indicate the start of summer by lighting a massive bonfire and then welcome the rest of the community to join in the festivities well into the night.



The Cornwall villages of Millbrook, Kingsand and Cawsand host The Black Prince Procession, which is a Flower Boat Ritual. A model of the ship The Black Prince is decorated with flowers and is carried in procession, (followed by the villagers wearing traditional clothes and accompanied by music and Morris dancers) through the villages to the beach where it is cast adrift to symbolise the end of winter.



May Day isn’t just celebrated by towns and villages, some universities have begun their own traditions.

Students at St Andrews gather on the beach late on April 30th and rush (occasionally naked) into the North sea at sunrise on the 1st of May to welcome in the change of season.

Students of the University of Durham also celebrate rather uniquely. They gather at 5am, on Prebend's Bridge to welcome summer at sunrise and enjoy festivities, folk music, dancing and singing, whilst a few of the braver merrymakers jump into the River Wear. They then enjoy a hearty barbecue breakfast as they rejoice the end of winter.


Around The World

May Day is also celebrated in many countries all over the world and they too have their own May Day traditions.

In Italy, it is custom to hold a seasonal feast.

In Bulgaria, many people light fires, jump over them and make noises to scare snakes.

For the French, it is custom to present loved ones with flowers, particularly Lilies.

In Greece, people hang wreaths of handpicked flowers on their doors.



A traditional drink to consume on May eve is light, tasty punch made using fresh strawberries, white wine, lemonade and woodruff (a plant that smells vaguely of marzipan).