The parish church of central Finchley
26 Hendon Lane, Finchley, London N3 1TR

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Posted May 3rd, 2024

Remembering May Day Festivals


One of the loveliest and oldest known festivals of the year is celebrated this weekend – and used to be marked in regal style at our church.

Luckily, the May Day holiday always seemed to be a day of sunshine and merriment. Oge Ilozue was the first May Queen. She was crowned with grand ceremony and in bright sunshine by a long-standing friend of our church, the late Frank Williams, much loved Dad’s Army vicar.

We had our own Maypole – made by my Mum, using a decorated clothes prop and long strands of multi coloured ribbon. Oge sat in regal splendour on a flower-decked throne as young and old took turns to dance around the multi-coloured maypole. All the girls wore pretty spring dresses and bonnets and the boys were clad as traditional Morris dancers.

Historically, the May Day festival dates back a thousand years and marks the start of summer. It is usually celebrated at the beginning of May, halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice.  It is believed to have been inspired by three older festivals: Beltane fires, Walpurgisnacht and Floralia.

Traditional characters include “The Green Man”, also known as “Jack-in-the-Green” who symbolises the spring cycle of new growth. This is also the season for Morris dancers wearing bells on their ankles, waving hankies and sticks, supposedly to ward off evil spirits.

Our May Day bank holiday was established in 1978 in line with traditional labour day celebrations in many other countries.

Perhaps we should restore some of the old customs we used to honour at our ancient parish church. Amanda and Colin to the rescue I reckon.

If only I had kept Mum’s old clothes prop!

— Lynn Radnedge