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The Maypole Medley

Putting up the Maypole, Frederick Goodall, 1850 ​

Beltane and May Day

May 1

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"The May-pole is up,
Now give me the cup,
I'll drink to the garlands around it ;
But first unto those
Whose hands did compose
The glory of flowers that crown'd it."

~ The May-Pole, Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

May Day celebrations, echoing the ancient Roman festival of Floralia, continue to captivate people worldwide with their vibrant traditions. These festivities typically feature dancing and revelry around the maypole, a tradition that involves weaving ribbons into intricate patterns—a relatively modern adaptation of an older practice. Historically, maypole dancing was sometimes considered scandalous or immoral, leading to periods of prohibition. Notably, in 1645, the British Parliament, influenced by Oliver Cromwell's denouncement of May Day as “a Heathenish vanity, generally abused to superstition and wickedness,” banned the celebrations. However, these joyful occasions were restored during the Restoration by Charles II, known as "the Merry Monarch." He reaffirmed his connection with his subjects by erecting a colossal 40-meter high maypole in London’s Strand! The Scots celebrate with the Beltane Fire Festival, a dramatic revival of ancient Celtic rituals, particularly evident in Edinburgh. This spectacular event involves fire, drumming, and elaborate costumes to mark the beginning of summer and to invoke ancient spirits for protection and prosperity. The fire is a central element, symbolizing purification and the rejuvenation of life. This strathspey and jig in a square set contains all the elements of dancing round the maypole. So, as the saying goes, best to dance while you have the chance! 🌷 🌺 🌸 🌼

The Maypole Medley

May 1st is May Day (Beltane, Là Bealltainn ) an important spring festival in many cultures.  Though Beltane has ancient origins and customs, May Day rites such as crowning a May Queen and celebrations involving a maypole, and dancing around it are of more recent origin.

In Britain the maypole was found primarily in England and in areas of Scotland and Wales which were under English influence. By the period 1350-1400 the custom was well established across southern Britain, in town and country and in both Welsh-speaking and English-speaking areas.

 

The relatively recent 19th century addition of the interweaving of ribbons held by the dancers at one end and tied to the top of the maypole in complex patterns, is signified by the interlocking and Schiehallion reels in this dance.

The symbolism of the maypole has been continuously debated by folklorists for centuries, being alternately seen as a relic from Germanic pagan tree worship, a phallic symbol of ancient spring rites, or as an anti-religious symbol. 

In Britain, the rise of Protestantism in the 16th century led to increasing disapproval of maypoles and other May Day practices which were viewed as idolatry and therefore immoral. The Long Parliament's ordinance of 1644 described maypoles as "a Heathenish vanity, generally abused to superstition and wickedness."

Under the Reformation, many maypoles, such as the famous Cornhill maypole of London, were destroyed; however when Mary I ascended the throne after Edward's death, she reinstated Roman Catholicism as the state faith, and the practice of maypoles was reinstated. 

In the United Sates, a similar suspicion of maypoles and May celebrations prevailed, most notably fictionalized in "The May-Pole of Merry Mount," a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, included in his Twice-Told Tales.  It tells the story of the colony of Mount Wollaston, or Merry Mount, a 17th-century British colony located in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts.

For a beautiful compilation of May Day and Maypole paintings, click the painting of Come Join the Maypole Dance, by Henry John Yeend King (1855-1924).

The Maypole Medley

Click the dance cribs or description below to link to a printable version of the dance!

The Maypole Medley

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WELCOME TO An Entertainment Site for Scottish Country Dancers - Enjoy the curated selection of theme-related dances for celebrations and holidays, or find a dance associated with a special calendar day, or EVEN your own birthday!  

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