I love May!  First off it’s my birthday….”Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me”, and there are two bank holidays, one at the start, May Day and the other, very often around my special day commonly known as Spring Bank Holiday!

The UK as a nation has the lowest number of Bank Holidays in the world except for Mexico which has just seven to our eight but India has a massive 21 days!   Mind you up to 1834 we enjoyed 33 days off which were mainly to celebrate feast and Saints days, that was until some misery guts decided that was too many and reduced it to a measly 4 days which were Good Friday, Christmas, All Saints Day and May Day.  It was politician and banker John Lubbock who made these four days official and as such they are referred to as “Bank” holidays, it seems Lubbock’s Days didn’t have the same ring to them!

The early May holiday which falls on the first Monday of the month is traditionally a celebration of the start of the summer season, the end of winter and a celebration of fertility.  It is a time for parties, dancing and merriment.  People would exchange gifts and enjoy parades and food and drink in the village green. Traditional dancing of the time would be around the Maypole.  Historically the Maypole itself was said to be a sign of male fertility and the baskets and hampers were meant to signify female fertility and new birth.  This colourful dance consisting of long brightly coloured ribbons attached to a tall pole also dates back to Roman Britain where men would dance around decorated trees to worship the Roman Goddess Flora. The maypole was banned under Oliver Cromwell and was not brought back until Charles the Second returned from exile and helped to erect a huge maypole in London’s Strand.  This brought back the party hence the Kings nickname “The Merry Monarch”.

Another traditional form of dance, often related to May Day is Morris dancing.  There are differing opinions on the history of the dance but most are agreed that it was a form of folk dance with numerous styles across the different regions around the country, from clog dancing to sword dancing.  It is now synonymous with May Day with the most common dress of the jingly bells, the hats and the sticks.  Something so brilliantly British!

Spring bank holiday or the late May holiday, used to fall on the first Monday after Pentecost in the Christian calendar and was previously known as Whit Monday.  It would have been in early June but for a change by the financial and banking industry in 1971 moving it to the last Monday in May.  There are no real traditions to celebrate and so this late May holiday is typically one for families to relax and enjoy an extra day off and longer weekend.  With the warmer weather we can enjoy being outdoors or in the garden with friends and a few drinks.  This is where if you’ve been paying attention the seeds from your Garden Gift Box will now be coming through!

Although there are no notable historic traditions there are some very British events and festivities attached to it, notably the Gloucestershire cheese rolling contest!   Stretching back over 200 years this event sees a huge 4kg roll of Gloucester cheese sent spinning down Coopers Hill, a steep hill in Brockworth and contestants race down and try to catch it!  There are injuries every year and the event was officially banned in 2010 but volunteers are determined to keep the tradition going.  The first to finish wins the cheese and the glory!

We might only have eight bank holidays per year but we sure know how to make the most of them!  After May the next holiday is in August and then the next is Christmas!!  Oh we definitely need the numbers restoring back up to 33 don’t you think?

Enjoy the break,


May 01, 2021 — Julie Selby