Most traditional May customs have two key elements, fortunately both still available to enjoy even in lockdown: walks and flowers. Not only the summer festival of May Day, but also the celebration of church feasts which often fall in this month – Rogationtide, Ascension Day, and Whitsun – have historically involved some form of going out into the countryside and bringing in flowers and greenery to decorate at home.
The history of popular May customs suggests that anything can be decked with flowers in May. People would make May garlands to carry in procession, to decorate churches, or to hang above the doors of the house. In the Peak District, Ascension Day is still marked by the tradition of well- dressing, decorating wells with intricate patterns of flowers.
There was a pretty custom in the 19th century of children making “May Dolls”: dressing their favourite doll in its best clothes, laying it in a bed of flowers in a cardboard box, and carrying it around the neighbourhood to show it off and collect a little money.
Parades and processions may be off this year, but we can still try to replicate their spirit. Why not try a DIY Rogationtide walk in the week leading up to Ascension Day?
Rogationtide is a season to ask for God’s blessing on the land and future harvest, and used to be known in England as the “Gang Days”, literally “Walk Days”.
The ancient custom is to walk the course of the parish boundaries, with regular stops for prayer and “beating the bounds”, gently hitting something to mark the boundary-point (usually trees and walls, but some- times any accompanying children).
These summer country walks were celebratory and playful, but their purpose was serious: to fix these boundaries in collective memory and to encircle the whole community with God’s protection and blessing.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund