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Dates for assembley

May 1 May Day One of the few pagan feasts never to be Christianised, this spring fertility festival has (in modern times) become a celebration of the dignity of labour.

Outline script for assembly leader

Early in the morning on the first day of May, the sandman goes through the streets of the Cheshire town of Knutsford, sprinkling coloured sand on the pavements. This is supposed to bring good luck to the houses he passes - especially the homes of those soon to be married. The custom goes back to the time of King Cnut (or Canute) after whom Knutsford is named. He once saw a wedding procession go by and emptied his shoe of sand at the couple's feet, wishing them as many children as there were grains of sand in his shoe.

May Day is carnival time in Knutsford with processions, morris and maypole dancing, fancy dress parades and the crowning of a girl chosen be "Queen of the May". The same customs used to happen in many other places as well, while in Padstow, Cornwall and Minehead, Somerset, the "Obby Oss" (a man dressed up as a strange-looking horse) dances through the streets, chasing women and girls.

These celebrations date back to the Celtic festival of Beltane, observed on May Day. This was a festival marking the end of winter and the start of summer, and was a time of hope. The Celts regarded horses with great respect and believed the May "oss" brought fertility to the land and people. Maypole and morris dancing had the same purpose: the higher the morris dancers jumped, the higher the crops would grow.

In 1889, leaders of the labour movement from all over Europe met in Paris, and decided May Day should be a day of demonstrations to cut the working day to eight hours. Since then, May Day has also been Labour Day, a time for expressing pride in work, solidarity between workers and hope for the future.

Follow-up

Discuss the importance of fertility to agricultural communities.

Use a broom handle or netball post to create a maypole. Practice a traditional dance associated with the month of May.

Design a trade union style banner for your school.

* Details of May customs can be found at www.england-in-particular.commay.html Links to information about the Knutsford Royal Day are at www.virtual-knutsford.co.uk and the Padstow festivities are described at www.cornishlight.co.ukpadstow-obby

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