May day – more than meets the eye

Wiltshire Spring Countryside

It is the 1st of May. Did you know that today is May Day.

And it is my pleasure to talk about and encourage the celebration of this wonderful English day. A day which has its roots deeply embedded in country legend,folklore and English history.

The celebration of May Day as a festival goes back to pre-Christian times. A time when people believed in gods and spirits which are not as widely recognised today. If we go back in history to these times, several thousand years ago, it’s amazing and fascinating. So let’s glimpse back….

At this time England would have been covered widely in woodland and forest and men would have had to go into the forest to hunt for food and for life essentials. All people would have had a very close association with woodlands and forests. It would have been their natural habitat.

Sometimes I worry that in modern times people have become very fearful of being in woodland, when they are such special places.

Anyway, back to pre-Christian England. May day fell at the time of year when the long hard winter was over at last for the local tribes people. Food was becoming more plentiful again and the forest was springing to life with fresh green leaves and flowers. Can you imagine how wonderful this must have felt to an early tribe after the long winter!

So for early tribes when spring arrived in its glory, they wanted to give thanks. And they wanted to give that thanks to someone, to a god or spirit they believed to be responsible for this miracle. And the spirit they chose to give their thanks too was a spirit known in modern times as “The Green Man”. God of vegetation and plants.

Early tribes probably felt the winter in the forest was a desolate time and so when the forests sprung back to life they gave a spiritual meaning to spring.

The green man is often shown as a face surrounded by leaves and foliage. The face can be found dating back to the 11th century in some church carvings.

There are many other stories about The Green Man. Some even say elements of the story have found their way forwards in time to more modern day characters such as Peter Pan.

I love the thought of an ancient people celebrating the arrival of spring. The joy and happiness that they must have felt. The feeling of the warmth of a spring sunshine on their faces and the sight of flowers and leaves in the forest. The forest which gave them life, food and all they needed.

And we can still celebrate and rejoice in spring today. And the beauty, tranquillity and sense of wonder woodlands can give us. So here’s to the mysterious green man. Happy May Day.




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