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May Day in London – a quick guide for international students

May Day in London – a quick guide for international students

Students in London have to see Morris Dances

May Day in London and all around England is a day of many celebrations,  a crossroad between traditions that is hard to explain, but wonderful to experience. From pagan rituals, Christian choirs, and communist parades, there’s something for everybody happening. So don’t spend this day indoors: it’s May Day in London –  go explore!

May Day is one of England’s oldest traditions and ceremonies all over the country take place over a number of days. Especially outside of London, festivities are focussed around welcoming Spring in ways that they’ve been celebrated for centuries. Some of these are decidedly Pagan, such as the Battle between the Tree Man and the Ice Queen in Clun -more info at the official Clun Greenman website. Others are very Christian, such as May Morning choir singing at 6am in Oxford (see VisitOxfordshire’s description). Many are somewhere in between: who’s to say where the tradition of  St. Andrews’ students to go skinny dipping ceremony really comes from?

May Dip is a special tradition of Studnents in England
After partying all night, students of St. Andrews go swim in the North Sea to greet the day – practically naked

Certain traditions can be seen happening all over England. Morris Dancing, for example, a traditional form of dancing with sticks. With really curious costumes and routines that tend to be a little bit strange and very funny, this is definitely the kind of thing every international student in England should try to watch. Seriously has to be seen to be believed! If you need a teaser, this excellent Videowl 4-minute clip is a great introduction. Many villages will also put a Maypole in the ground and organise traditional dances around it which are very popular with children.  Other traditions involving flowers (garlanding and the crowning of the May Queen), are fertility rites and typical ways of welcoming the Spring. (As a side note, you guys – if you engage in any fertility rites of your own this Bank Holiday, we recommend you wear protection).

Students in London need to see Morris Dancers
Strange outfits and stranger dance routines – sounds just like a student night out!

It won’t be easy for a student living in London to spot these taking place. You are much more likely to see a different kind of May Day in London: the International Workers’ Day. The 1st of May is a celebration of working class heroes and the 19th century struggle for workers’ rights in most countries of the world. If you’re a political student in London or nearby, head down to Clerkenwell Green (close to the Marx Memorial Library) for the May Day march and rally. The group of communists, unionists, anti-capitalists and other socialists walks down to Trafalgar Square for a rally with speeches by some of the leading people in these movements. Definitely the most revolutionary way to spend your May Day in London. (More information? This is the Organising Committee website for the May Day in London march)

Students in London protesting at May Day Rally
May Day  in London – Rally in Trafalgar. Students in London have a reputation for standing up for causes they really believe in

Alternatively, you can either watch the start or even join the Maydayrun  – a motorbike trip with thousands of bikers heading down to Hastings, where nearly 1000 years ago William the Conqueror and his army arrived to England. The Maydayrun has been going on for 36 years and is one of the favourite yearly events among many bikers in England. The gathering at Hastings is considered Britain’s biggest free to attend motorcycle festival. If you’re interested, it has starting points in both Locksbottom (very-south London) and in the Ace Café (North London – click here for the Ace Café website).

Finding student accommodation is like biking
The Maydayrun is a must-go for students that are into biking (or bikers!)

Other things going on this May Day in London include: the Canalway Cavalcade, a gathering of the London canal boats (click here for info), the Streetfest in Hackney, an urban arts gathering including breakdancing, djs, tattoos, graffittis, rappers and more, the NXD Free Film Festival in venues around New Cross and Deptford  such as an old police station and a library (click here for the lineup), and a TimeOut exclusive Silent Disco party up in The Shard.

Why live in a boat when you can find good student accommodation
The Canalway Cavalcade: a lineup of the boats in Little Venice is one of the most colourful celebration of May Day in London

So, there’s hundreds of really interesting things happening this May Day in London – and throughout the whole of England. My recommendation? If you’re studying in London or even studying in England, just choose an event and get ready to go! Take this opportunity to make the most of something that you couldn’t see anywhere else in the world.

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EDIT: A Student of St. Andrews wrote in to explain the May Dip tradition. “It’s a reference to the actions of former student John Honey.”  The fascinating story of this St. Andrews Alum is well worth reading. Thank you, Teddy Woodhouse.

Photocredits: photographs taken mostly from previous events on May Day in London and around England  by Flickr users Michael Jones, Dean Thorpe, Alice, Ana ADI, XPGomes13 and Voice of Russia.

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