Wednesday, 9 May 2012


My family and I went to the Jack-in-the-Green festival in Hastings this weekend. A lively, colourful May Day celebration that takes place over the whole of the bank holiday weekend, to welcome the start of summer. It doesn't feel very summery here at the moment but the sun came out at least!

May 1st has long been an important part of the annual Calendar. It is the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and as such has always been a day for celebration: the Celts celebrated May Day as Beltane; The Romans dedicated the day to the Goddess Flora and would go to the woods to cut a tree and decorate it with ribbons and flowers. This is the origin of the May Pole. The Victorians replaced the Lord and Lady of the May with the May Pole, to create something prettier and less bawdy.

In the 16th and 17th centuries people would celebrate by making garlands of flowers to celebrate May Day, which became more and more elaborate. In the late 18th century it became a competition between Works Guilds, and the garlands soon became so big they covered a man from head to foot. These became known as "Jack in the Green". Here, Jack is paraded through the streets of Hastings, accompanied by attendants, here known as Bogies, who are completely disguised in green rags, vegetation, and face paint. The attendants play music, dance and sing as they guide Jack through the streets. Then after each Morris Troupe has danced, he is "slane" atop the hill in the ruins of Hastings castle to welcome the spirit of summer.

This particular parade has been taking place in Hastings since 1983, revived by Mad Jacks Morris Dancers. There are many other festivals around England that also celebrate this tradition; Whitsable, Rochester and Ilfracombe in Devon to name a few and "Jack" also features in the Pagan Pride festival in London at the end of May.

Lots of dancing, drumming and beer! What better way is there to celebrate?


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