May Facts, Customs and Traditions

Gemstone: Emerald
Flower: Lilly of the Valley

May is named after the Greek goddess, Maia. The month is a time of great celebrations in the northern hemisphere. It is the time when flowers emerge and crops begin to sprout.

The Anglo-Saxon name for May was Tri-Milchi, in recognition of the fact that with the lush new grass cows could be milked three times a day. It was first called May in about 1430. Before then it was called Maius, Mayes, or Mai.

May Day (Garland Day)

In Britain, as in most parts of Western Europe, May day marked the end of the harsh winter months, welcomed the beginning of Summer, and optimistically looked forward to the bright and productive months. For our ancestors, largely in rural areas, it was a major annual festival and was celebrated through out the country, especially on the first of May with music, dancing and games.

Traditional May Day celebrations included dancing around maypoles and the appearance of ‘hobby horses’ and characters such as ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Jack in Green’.

Find out more about May Day in England

In some parts of Britain, May 1st is called Garland Day.

The first of May is Garland Day
So please remember the garland.
We don’t come here but once a year,
So please remember the garland.

Greenery was collected by primary school children to make garlands. In many English villages children would parade with garlands of flowers, sometimes fastened to sticks or in the shape of a cross, or fixed to hoops. This was done in the hope of collecting money. Sometimes this was known as May Dolling because often placed in the centre of the garland was a small doll.

There are still garland ceremonies today.

At Charlton-on-Otmore, Oxfordshire, a large wooden cross covered with yew and box leaves stands above the rood screen in the church. On May Day this is taken down and redecorated with fresh greenery and flowers and the children carry small decorated crosses around the village and bring them to a special service. Also in Oxfordshire at Brampton, the Spring Bank Holiday marks the beginning of the traditional Morris Dance Season. In the morning children bring out a selection of garlands which are judged in a competition at lunch time. May dolls are sometimes used in these.

May Day Superstition

First thing in the morning on May 1st, young girls used to rush out into the garden to wash their faces in the May dew.

There is an old tale that says that May dew has magic properties and that anyone who has washed their face in it will have a beautiful complexion all through the year. This dew was supposed to be able to remove freckles and also spots and pimples.

Other Superstition for May

The month of may was considered an unlucky month particularly for getting married.

‘Marry in May and you’ll rue the day’

Being born in May was thought to produce a sickly child.

Never buy a broom in May or wash blankets.

Wash a blanket in May.
Wash a dear one away.

Cats born this month will not be good rodent catchers and even worse, will bring snakes into the home.

Unlucky days are 3rd, 6th, 7th, 13th, 15th and 20th.

Weather-lore, beliefs and sayings

“A wet May makes a big load of hay. A cold May is kindly and fills the barn finely. “

“A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay.”

“Mist in May, Heat in June
Makes harvest come right soon”

“If you wash a blanket in May;
You will wash one of the family away.”

“Those who bathe in May
Will soon be laid in clay”

Oak Apple Day

This is the day that traditionally people wear oak apples or oak leaves pinned to them to remember that on May 29th King Charles ll returned triumphantly to London after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

The reason for the wearing of oak apples or oak leaves was to celebrate the King’s narrow escape from capture by Cromwell’s soldiers by hiding in an oak tree.

Until well into the twentieth century, anyone caught not wearing an oak leaf or oak apple on May 29th could be pinched, kicked, or otherwise abused. Whipping with nettles was a favourite punishment, hence the name ‘Nettle Day‘ in some areas.

Arbor Tree Day

Arbor Day, on the last Sunday in May, is the Sunday nearest to Oakapple Day.

In Aston-on-Clun in Shropshire, a large tree standing in the centre of the village is decorated with flags on the last Sunday in May. The flags stay on the tree until the following May. Aston-on-Clun is the only place in the UK that still marks this ancient tradition.

People say that in 1786 the local landowner John Marston married on May 29th and, when passing through the village, saw the villagers celebrating Arbor Day. The bride thought that the tree looked so beautiful covered in flags, that she gave money to the village to allow the custom to continue.
Find out more about this interesting custom…..

Unusual Customs


1st May -Labour Day

1st May- May Day.

5th May – 1930 Amy Johnson was the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia.

6th May- 1840 The world’s first postage stamp, the ‘Penny Black’ stamp, became valid for use in the UK.
6th May – 1954 Roger Bannister ran a mile in less than four minutes.

8th May – 1945 VE (Victory in Europe) Day.

9th May Captain Blood attempted to steal the crown jewels in 1671

10th May- 1994 Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa.

12th May- 1820 Florence Nightingale was born.

15th May The Romans believed this was the birthday of Mercury, the messenger and son of Zeus who could travel with the speed of thought.

18th May – 1955 The first Wimpy Bar opened in London. Have a treat and visit your local Wimpy, or have a burger night.
18th May – 1991 Helen Sharman became the first British woman in space.

21st May – 1946 Bread rationing introduced in the UK.

28th May – 1908 Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books, was born.

29th May – 1953 Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Everest.

29th May Oak Apple Day.

30th May 1431 Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.
30th May Death of King Arthur in 542

10 May Anniversaries and Events

Famous May 10th Births

Those born on May 10th share this anniversary with the following famous personalities:

  • Marcus Aurelius Claudius, Roman Emporer was born in 213 BC. Of barbarian stock, possibly from the area now known as Serbia. It is alleged that he murdered his predecessor Gallienus.
  • Sir Dudley North, English Economist, born in 1641.
  • John Wilks Booth, actor and assassin of President Abraham Lincoln was born in 1838.
  • Fred Astaire, famed for his terpsicorian (dancing) skills often with partner Ginger Rogers was born in 1899 in Omaha, Nebraska. Screen classics in which he performed include Daddy Longlegs and Flying Down to Rio.
  • Dennis Thatcher, business man and husband of Margaret Thatcher was born in 1915.
  • Maureen Lipman, English actress was born in 1944 in Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire, England.
  • John Diamond, journalist, was born in 1953.
  • Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols was born in 1957
  • Linda Evangelista, Canadian supermodel was born in 1965.
  • English comic Al Murray was born in 1968

Noteworthy Events that Occurred on May 10th Over the Centuries

  • Amerigo Vespucci allegedly left Cadiz on his voyage to the New World in 1497. Did he discover America or was it Christopher Columbus, Geonoese explorer who should be credited with discovering America in 1492? In any case Vespucci is the one whose name stuck.
  • Louis XV! became King of France in 1774. Arrested during the Revolution of 1792, he was executed on the Guillotine. At the Age of 15 he married Marie Antoinette and at the age of 19 he succeeded to the throne when his Grandfather, Louis XV died.
  • The National Gallery opened in London in 1824.
  • Victoria Woodhull becomes the first woman to run for President of the United States in 1872.
  • Romania declares independence from the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire in 1877. It was formed from the merged states of Moldova, Wallachia, Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia. It was assumed into the USSR. After Romania regained independence for 10 years it joined the European Union on January 1st 2007.
  • Mother’s Day was celebrated for the first time in the United States in 1908 in Grafton, West Virginia.
  • J. Edgar Hoover was appointed Head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1924 and remained in this office until his death in 1972.
  • The Nazis begin to impose censorship and staged huge book burnings in 1933.
  • Winston Churchill was appointed Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1940 after the resignation of Neville Chamberline whose appeasement policy had failed.
  • Bill Haley and the Comets release “Rock Around the Clock” in 1954.
  • Nelson Mandela inaugurated at South Africa’s first black president in 1994.

Noteworthy Deaths that Occurred on 10th May over the Centuries

  • 1818 Paul Revere, American Patriot
  • 1863 Stonewall Jackson American Civil War Confederate General
  • 1977 Joan Crawford, American actress

National Days and Saints Days Observed on May 10th

May 10th is Confederate Memorial Day in North Carolina and South Carolina and Mothers Day in Guatamala, El Salvador and Mexico.

Saints Days include St. John of Avila, spanish jewish convert, and St. Alphius, 3rd Century AD martyr.