Saturday, 30 April 2011

Highworth May Day ....

After the excitement of yesterday's Royal Wedding, today saw Highworth's May Day celebrations kick off with an "Elizabethan Day" a medieval market, maypole dancing, mummers, morris men, pig and ox roast ...

The most well known symbol of May Day merrymaking is the Maypole. During the medieval period it was traditional for the adults to go to the woods on May Eve where they spent the night in pleasant pastimes. At dawn the following day they returned bringing with them branches of trees, particularly hawthorn, which they used to decorate the door of each house, believing that this would bring good luck and fertility for the coming year. Geoffrey Chaucer refers to this maying in his 'Knight's Tale'.

Morris Men in the Market Square

But the highlight of the morning was the bringing home of the maypole. Drawn by oxen, with nosegays of flowers on their horns, it would be decorated with fresch garlands and greenery, flowers and sometimes ribbons and set up to become the focal point for the celebrations. With great joy and merriment people danced round it, but not plaiting ribbons as in the modern revival. In the earlier form, they either held hands in a ring, danced solo in a circle or wove in and out in a circle and there are reports of people kissing each other as they met.

Maypoles were banned under Cromwell but were brought back with great enthusiasm after the restoration of Charles II. Pepys described the beginning of King Charles' reign as "The happiest May Day that hath been many a year in England".
Uffington White Horse atop the Maypole

A local story of the Highworth area has it that nearby Longcot's maypole was greatly envied by the inhabitants of the surrounding villages in the Vale and that it was stolen one night by a group of Ashbury lads who erected it in front of the Crown Inn. It was stolen from them in turn by the men of Uffington and then in turn by the men of Lambourn, not without a fight breaking out in which boiling water was used by the Uffington men. Parson Watts of Uffington, was so horrified at this that he ordered that the maypole should be cut up into small pieces and the wood given to the poor at Christmas.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Mothers Day ....

Today was Mothers Day here in England, or "Mothering Sunday" to be more correct.

Mothering Sunday has been celebrated in the UK on the fourth Sunday in Lent since at least the 16th century and it was a day when the fasting rules were relaxed, perhaps in honour of the 'Feeding of the Five Thousand'.

No one is absolutely certain exactly how the name of Mothering Sunday began, however, one theory is that the celebration could have been adopted from a Roman Spring festival celebrating Cybele, their Mother Goddess. As Christianity spread, this "pagan" festival was adopted by Christians and it is known that on this date, about four hundred years ago, people made a point of visiting their nearest big church (the Mother Church) or the church in which they had been baptised.

Young girls and boys 'in service', as my own maternal grandmother was as a teenager, at the local Manor House or in a Mansion, were only allowed one day to visit their family each year. This was usually on Mothering Sunday. For some this could be a significant journey since their mother may have lived some distance away, indeed another town altogether from the Manor where they were put in to service. Often the housekeeper or cook would allow the maids to bake a cake to take home for their mother. Sometimes a gift of eggs; or flowers from the garden (or hothouse) was allowed.

The most favoured cake was the 'simnel cake':

‘I’ll to thee a Simnell bring 
‘Gainst thou go’st a mothering, 
So that, when she blesseth thee, 
Half that blessing thou’lt give to me.’
Robert Herrick 1648

The Simnel cake is a fruit cake. A flat layer of marzipan (sugar almond paste) is placed on top of and decorated with 11 marzipan balls representing the 12 apostles minus Judas, who betrayed Christ. It was not eaten on Mothering Sunday because of the rules of Lent, instead it was saved until Easter.

Herrick’s poem (quoted) is of particular interest to folklorists, being one of the earliest references to the Post-Reformation celebration of this festival.

(Sent from Samsung mobile)