May 1st – May Day The day was celebrated, in some way, and at all levels of society, all over the country and was probably only second in enjoyment to Christmas. The coming of spring was seen as a cause for celebration in all northern countries – for obvious reasons after the cold, dark, wet, winter months. However, it is difficult to say with any certainty exactly what these celebrations entailed and how they varied around the country and at different levels of society. As an example, in 1515 Henry VIII took Katherine of Aragon ‘a-maying’ to Shooters Hill where he played at being Robin Hood, with an open air banquet in flower decked arbours. Fetching greenery from the countryside to decorate buildings seems to be a common theme. Surviving descriptions of ‘maypoles’ and ‘garlands’ vary greatly.
Rogationtide – this year on May 14th, 15th and 16th – the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday immediately preceding Ascension Day. Introduced to the English church in 747, it takes its name from the Latin ‘rogare’ – to ask or to beseech. Traditionally the day on which the local clergy led the parishioners around the parish, blessing fields, crops and animals, ‘beating the bounds’. At the Reformation, the overtly Catholic practice of carrying crosses and saints images was banned but the processions continued, not least because they confirmed land boundaries and rights and therefore the calculation of taxes, rates and tithes.
Ascension Day – this year May 17th(the fortieth day after Easter Sunday). Also referred to as Holy Thursday, the day Jesus ascended to heaven and therefore one of the major festivals of the Christian church.
Whitsun – this year May 27th, Whit Sunday is the seventh Sunday after Easter, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. Its official name (Pentecost, ‘fiftieth’) derived from the existing Jewish festival that celebrated the giving of the laws of Moses, fifty days after Passover. It was a favoured time of year for open air events and often associated with Church Ales, essentially fund-raisers for the local parish.