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Have a Beltane belter on May 1.

EVERYONE is getting ready to enjoy a nice big lie-in to kick off May Day celebrations on May 1. The day itself traditionally sees Morris dancing, children frolicking around a maypole and the crowning of a May Queen.

But what is the history behind May Day and why does it actually exist? The May Bank Holiday weekend has roots in the pagan festival of Beltane, which marks the beginning of summer.

Typically on May Day, villages and towns across the UK now mark the beginning of springtime fertility.

This would usually be celebrated with large gatherings of communities, villages holding fetes and other fun activities.

The May Queen was also traditionally crowned on May Day, when local schoolgirls would compete for the crown in honour of Flora, the Roman goddess.

But where does maypole dancing come into all this? Maypole dancing is another tradition celebrated on May Day, and is seen as a way of saying farewell to winter.

Even though summer does not begin until June, May Day is a celebration of things coming to life.

May Day also falls on the same day as International Workers' Day, launched in the late 19th century with protests for an eight-hour working day.

The official May Day falls on May 1, and the May Day bank holiday - when many of us get a day off work - always falls on first Monday in May. That neans that this year, it actually falls on May 1. However, if you're particularly looking forward to this May Day Bank Holiday, you may want to reflect on the fact that it was nearly scrapped in 2011.

Parliament debated at the time that the bank holiday associated with May Day should be replaced by a United Kingdom Day that would fall in October.

Thankfully, for those looking forward to a day off soon, those plans did not materialise.

May Day was previously abolished by Puritan parliaments, but was brought back in 1660 following the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II.

The second bank holiday in May takes place on May 29 this year, and is known as the spring bank holiday.

But why do we have bank holidays? In 1871, the Bank Holidays Act was introduced, which ensured four days of the year were seen as public holidays.

Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day are all Bank Holidays.

In 1890, the May bank holiday became associated with International Workers' Day as the Second International organised a day of protests in support of an eight-hour working day.

May 1 was linked with protests after that, and then became an official holiday in 1978.

Modern ways of marking May Day vary dramatically.

In Edinburgh, the Beltane Fire Festival - celebrating the traditional pagan festivities - is held around the May Day bank holiday period.

Organisers boast that "Edinburgh's populace gets pagan and elemental dancing and dazzling fire displays become the evening's entertainment for the 12,000 plus people in attendance."

Students at the University of St Andrews have been known to gather at the North Sea on April 30 before storming into the water at sunrise - often naked.

In Oxford, Magdalen College students are also known to leap from Magdalen Bridge into the River Cherwell, which has caused injuries in the past.

One celebration that doesn't involve jumping into the water is seen in Padstow, Cornwall. Known as the Obby-Oss Day of Festivities, locals dance in the streets alongside accordian players who accompany them with music.

The festival sees the whole town decorated, and thousands typically attend.

And in Rochester, the Sweeps' festival takes place on May Day. This remembers the traditional holiday for chimney sweeps that used to take place on May 1 - the one day in the year when they could have some fun.

This year the festival will be held from April 30 until May 2 and will feature Morris dancing as well as performances of folk music on open-air stages.

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Children dance around the maypole on a traditional May Day
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 29, 2017
Words:672
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