Today is May Day, one of my favourite seasonal festivals which, had it not been for the lockdown, I would have marked with a visit to Oxford this year, to hear the Choristers and Academical Clerks of Magdalen College sing their hymns and madrigals from the top of the Great Tower, and later, with a walk through Christ Church Meadows (below) or University Parks.
Fortunately, modern technology means that the Choir of Magdalen still sang this morning, upholding its 500-year-old tradition, and to continue my celebration, I have dug out some photographs of previous visits to the city of dreaming spires and extended the musical interlude with recordings of Palestrina’s ‘Agnus Dei’ from his Missa Brevis and Thomas Morley’s ‘Now is the Month of Maying’. Although there is a constant of procession of cars outside, later, as part of my daily essential exercise, I will find an elm or birch tree to jog around in lieu of a dance around the maypole or joining a procession with garlands!
I am also re-reading Christina Hole’s chapter on ‘May-Day’, in her invaluable record of the English year, English Custom and Usage. As dense grey clouds and steady rain chase away the sun and cheerful birdsong here, her notes about Old May Day strike a chord. Our ancestors, living much more closely attuned to the waxing and waning of nature, were absolutely right to wait until the weather improved, welcoming in the early summer with a festival on or around the 12th day of this month.