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Category: May Day

The Green Man and Calendar Customs

Posted by: Stephen Winick

This is an entry in our occasional series on the Green Man, a figure from traditional folk culture. Among the traditional meanings shared by the figures of the Foliate Head and the Wild Man or Green Man seems to have been that humanity, like vegetation, must follow and adapt to the changing seasons. This traditional meaning could well have given rise to a connection between the Green Man and calendar customs, which goes back to some of the earliest appearances of the figure. In this post we’ll look more closely at the Green Man as an element of seasonal celebration.

A painting of a May Day procession including a Jack in the Green

Green Man Connections: Jack in the Green and More

Posted by: Stephen Winick

For many years, people have drawn connections among several figures in traditional art: the traditional English Green Man (a wild man clad in leaves who was part of pageants from the mid-sixteenth century); the drawings and carvings of faces covered in leaves (sometimes also called Green Men but previously known as the Foliate Head); the Jack-in-the-Green of Mayday celebrations; the similar figure known as the Garland; and the popular folk hero Robin Hood. This post looks at the history of these connections, from the late Middle Ages to the twenty-first century, illustrated with pictures of the Foliate Head and Jack-in-the-Green.

People enjoying a parade

More About “Hal An Tow”: Early Evidence of a May Song.

Posted by: Stephen Winick

In this post we examine some of the earliest evidence of the Cornish May Song, also known as "Hal An Tow." A version of this song was recorded from Lillian Short in Missouri by Vance Randolph in 1941. By that time, the melody to the song had changed in oral tradition, but this early evidence, a written transcription by Edward Jones from 1802, shows that the song was formerly sung to the same melody retained by Lillian Short. The post includes Jones's 1802 passage describing the May 8 observances in Helston, Cornwall, which include the "Hal An Tow" song, the "Furry Dance" or "Flora Dance," and other events; the sheet music as he published it; and a discussion of Jones's interpretations of the Helston song in relation to AFC's field recording.

A man playing a guitar and singing to a close crowd of a dozen or so men and women

Five Questions with Jennifer Cutting

Posted by: Stephen Winick

The following is a guest post by Jennifer Cutting.  The “Five Questions” interview was performed by Danna Bell, from the Library of Congress’s Educational Outreach office.  A shorter version of her answers is available at their blog, Teaching with the Library of Congress. Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials …

A man playing a guitar and singing to a close crowd of a dozen or so men and women

May Day: A Festival of Flowers

Posted by: Stephanie Hall

May Eve, April 30th, and May Day, May first, have long been part of the celebration of spring in Europe. The flowering of fruit trees and sowing season were important to agriculturalists in the hope of a good harvest. Lambing, kidding, and calving season had passed, so animals could be allowed out to more remote …