Monthly Archives: April 2019

May Day Maypoles

On Wednesday, May 1, the Northern Hemisphere celebrates May Day. In recent times the celebrations take the form of school sports days, many featuring maypole dancing.

But in the distant past, May Day marked the change from darkness to light as days became longer and green sprouts returned to the earth. Ancient Celts celebrated with the Festival of Beltane. Was this the origin of the maypole? Hard to say.


In the Middle Ages, maypoles were erected as a sign that the season of warmth had returned. The crops were sown, and it wasn’t time to start weeding yet. A perfect time to celebrate renewed fertility of the earth and livestock. May Day ranked with Christmas and Easter as a time of rejoicing.

Puritans, among the first migrants to America, viewed maypoles as idolatry and forbade them in New England. But not everyone who came to the colony was a Puritan. Thomas Mortan arrived in 1624 as part of a trading expedition, and set up shop in Merrymount [now a residential neighborhood in Quincy MA].

In 1627 Morton and others erected an 80 foot maypole, brewed a barrel of beer, and invited everyone to the party. Governor Bradford reported that “they drank and danced about the maypole for many days inviting the Indean women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking togither, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practises.”


The govenor sent Myles Standish and his men to stop the festivities, put Morton in the stocks, and eventually deported him back to England.

Maypoles continued to exist in England until after the English Civil War of 1640. The Puritan government took a dim view of maypoles which they described as “a Heathenish vanity,” and squashed the custom.

In 1661 the tide turned again. Charles II returned as king in and erected a 130 foot maypole in the Strand, London to celebrate the restoration of the monarchy.

Maypole Dance

Modern maypole dancing was revived by the Victorians, particularly John Ruskin. The dance is done by boys and girls algternately standing around the pole. Each holds one of the ribbons. The children weave around each other; the boys going in one direction and the girls, the other until the ribbons are woven together around the pole.

The custom remained popular in the early twentieth century and today, with the development of collapsable poles, May Day celebrations are becoming popular again.

In Hawai`i, May Day is celebrated as Lei Day. A time for public school events and lei making competitions.



Villagers and Morris Men by the Maypole at Ickwell, UK 2005. Photo by Richard2s.

Barthelemy d’Eyck. 15th Century. Public Domain.

Stocks in Chapeltown. Photo by Austen Redman.

Maypole dance on Ellipse. Public Domain.

Jessica Learish. “What is a Maypole and How is it Used?” Bustle. May 1, 2016.

Lily Rothman. “The Most Controversial Maypole in American History.” Time. Apr. 29, 2016.

James Tapper. “Maypole Sales Are Up.” The Guardian. Apr. 29, 2018.

Notre Dame on Fire

At Notre-Dame de Paris, the fire alarm went off shortly after 6:00 p.m. on Monday, April 15th, but no fire was found. A computer glitch showed the fire location in the wrong place. A second alarm went off at 6:43 while the fire spread from the roof at the rear of the cathedral. In less… Continue Reading

Titanic Survivors: The Socialite, The Actress, and The “Unsinkable” Woman

At 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912, RMS Titanic struck an iceberg. At 00.25 a.m. the next morning, the Titanic sent out a distress call. At 2:20 a.m. the ship sank. At 4:00 a.m. the Carpathia began picking up the 710 survivors. This is a story about three women who traveled in first class. One… Continue Reading

Titanic – The Ship That Wasn’t Supposed to Sink

Wednesday marks another historic anniversary. It’s the day the RMS Titanic departed Southampton on her maiden voyage. The Titanic, premier ship of the White Star Line, represented the utmost in luxury. She was a marvel of modern engineering. Sixteen watertight compartments featured remotely activated watertight doors. There was no way seawater could enter the compartments,… Continue Reading

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