Unite and unite and let us all unite
For summer is a-coming today
And whither we are going we all will unite
In the merry morning of May.
(Padstow Obby Oss Song)
To celebrate May day I’m starting today’s editorial with a few lines from the Padstow Obby Oss song. May’s probably my favourite month and the start of May is celebrated in many areas of the world as the start of summer.
In Britain alone there are dozens of different traditional ways of celebrating the start of May. Steve Roud, in his excellent book, The English Year: The Nation’s Customs and Festivals from May Day to Mischief Night, counts dozens of different ones. These include maypole dancing, processions, floral garlands and the Padstow Oss.
Every year, in the Cornish village the streets are dressed in flowers, and on the day itself a strange circular ‘hobby oss’ is paraded round the town. The horse is actually a large circular frame draped in black cloth and with a stylised horse’s head in the centre. The festival is usually well attended and is the excuse for a good party! I can’t think of a better reason for celebrating, even if the original purpose seems a little lost nowadays.
I love reading about the old traditional celebrations dotted throughout the year. Many are dying out, but they are a close link to our past. For our rural ancestors, particularly those living before the industrial revolution, they had a deeper significance than they do for us. It’s good though, I think, to look back this far. Very few of us will ever be lucky enough to trace our family further back than a couple of hundred years or so, but we all had farmers amongst our ancestors. If we can get a little closer to understanding them by learning about the old traditions, that’s surely not a bad thing.
Sadly, we don’t have any May Day celebrations in my little corner of Yorkshire, so I had to make do with a couple of pints in the Blue Ball! Maybe I could start a new tradition. Steve Roud’s book is on my reading list and I’ll review it later this year.
This week’s book review takes us even further back in time, to ancient Rome. On Friday I’ll post a review of Mary Beard’s book, SPQR. I hope it inspires you to read it.