May Day is a day of traditions, a day of marching with banners and dancing around the May Pole, dressing up as trees and casting adrift flower boats. It’s a day of looking silly and causing a disturbance. A day of village fêtes, called off when it rains.
Morris dancing. The Wikipedia entry for morris dancing has a very major omission, and is a good example of the unfortunate systemic bias that necessarily plagues a collection of articles written only by those with a close interest in the subject of the article: the entry entirely overlooks the fact that morris dancing is the archetypal relic of England’s embarrassing traditional “culture”, synonymous in contemporary song and film with the uncool, collectively understood as shorthand for the depressingly detestable pastimes of weirdy beardy lonely old men.
That’s not a comment on whether the stereotype is true, just an observation on the omission of an encyclopaedic cultural reference.
The image problem of these bizarre cultural fossils is perhaps in part down to their perception as isolated provincial expressions of defiance against modernity, at times appearing as explicit as the Padstow Darkie Day tradition, where residents of the small Cornish town dance through the streets in black face singing minstrel songs — a tradition they staunchly defend against accusations that it’s just a tad racist. Keeping alive our festival traditions keeps alive in some the perceived possibility of a long passed past, a reassuring fantasy of a golden age, where men were men, women were women, crop yields were in the capable hands of devastating local fugal plagues instead of the distant faceless bureaucrats of the European Union, and the politically correct nanny state didn’t make laws against good clean fun like the fox hunt or splat the rat.
And so it seems thoroughly appropriate that the same day as is allocated to keeping alive our national traditions should also be a traditional day of politics, of solidarity, and of progressive causes.
Look at this filthy ugly rat getting whacked.
Folk against Fascism’s village fête at the Southbank Centre mixed it all very nicely. The fête against hate (I don’t know why they didn’t call it that. Their marketing department needs to be sacked.) reclaimed great English cultural traditions from singing and dancing to hoopla and a good clean mystical fortune telling, turning them against those who claim to represent the English and claim ownership of English culture and identity. A celebration of the English united against the petty parochial hate of moronic flag-waving thugs.
And best of all, it had the traditional May Day downpour, forcing everyone to pack it away inside, and keeping the bloody morris dancing to a minimum.