*The picture is unframed*
May Day Festivals around the United Kingdom typically start before dawn, so crowds can gather and watch the sun rise. ‘Beltane’, the Celtic Festival, means ‘Day of Fire’, and might have started with fire torches to see the way to the top of a hill, or temple like Stonehenge, to watch the Fireball sun rise, midway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice.
In Brighton, this is at 4.30am starting at Hollingbury Camp, one of the highest highestpoints in the vicinity, and one with historical resonance as an ancient Iron Age fort. Morris Dancers dance at the top of the hill, and then process around the fort perimeter in the first warm glow of the sun. If it’s cold and wet they process round the fort perimeter anyway, showing typical British (Viking roots) fortitude. The rest of the day the Morris Dancers perform in different locations in the town, often in an unplanned route from place to place.
May Day rituals pre-date the Romans, with Ancient Britons celebrating the pagan festival Beltane, appropriately the festival of fertility that recognises the planting and budding of crops. The Romans added Flora, the spring goddess, with garlands of flowers, but the month is named after the Roman goddess Maia, who oversaw the growth of plants.
Morris dancing came later, complimenting the existing May Day Festival and has traditionally been performed around England at Whitsun. Morris dancing involves energetic stepping and skipping as well as holding hands or turning-while holding hands, using bells, handkerchiefs, sticks and swords, fools, musical instruments and hobby horses or beasts. While the earliest recording of Morris dancing in England is in 1448, in the inventory of Caister Castle where a tapestry is described depicting them, Morris dancing was well known on the Continent in Court entertainment, from as far back as the Wedding of Raymond Berengar, Duke of Barcelona to Petronella of Aragon in 1149 Morris dancing was very popular in the Tudor Courts, with records of it having been performed for Henry VII and Henry VIII. These were elaborate dance entertainments with expensive costumes. Common people could not afford such costumes as the nobility but instead used ribbons, bells, colourful rags and flowers.