The ancients in Great Britain and Northern Europe believed that May 1 was the boundary day between summer and winter and that on this day a war took place between the two seasons to determine which would prevail. It became customary to stage a mock war between two people, one to represent winter; the other, summer. Summer always managed

Mandrake root shaped like mother with child. (RAYMOND BUCKLAND/FORTEAN PICTURE LIBRARY)
Mandrake root shaped like mother with child. (
to win and was promptly crowned King of the May. In triumph he held aloft green branches decorated with beautiful May flowers and sang an old folk song, the essence of which seems to have been, "I have won, I bring you summer!"

Later, as the custom evolved, a young tree was cut down and decorated with ribbons and flowers. This tree was set up triumphantly in the village and everyone danced around it. The Druids worshipped the tree, and it is possible that the Maypole originated with them. But long before the time of Charles I (1600– 1649) in England the tree had given way to the pole. Huge poles were planted in the ground and decorated with green branches and flowers. Long streamers were attached to the top, and each dancer held on proudly to his or her end of the ribbon.

Group of young women performing the Maypole dance. (CORBIS CORPORATION)
Group of young women performing the Maypole dance. (

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