Dates to celebrate in April and May

1st April – April Fools’ Day

There are many theories about the origins of April Fools’ Day, but it is known to date back to at least the 2nd century, and very possibly much earlier than that. People are sent on “fool’s errands” (such as being sent to the hardware shop to buy a new bubble for a spirit level), or have pranks played on them, but all of this must cease at noon – so get up early if you want to play lots of tricks!

3rd April – Mothering Sunday

mumOriginally, this was the day when worshippers presented gifts to their Mother Church. This was accompanied by “church-clipping”, which was a ceremony where people expressed their love of the church by joining hands around it, and walking round it.

Later, the idea of honouring the mother of one’s family sprang up, and young people were given the day off to do so. Mothers were relieved of all their chores by their children.

My own mother enjoys the day, but is suspicious that it is part of a conspiracy to ensure mothers only get one day off a year!

21st April – Maundy Thursday, the Queen’s birthday

Maundy Thursday marks the last day of Lent. Maundy means “command”, and refers to Christ’s final command to his followers at the Last Supper – he washed the feet of his disciples and commanded his followers to be humble and do likewise.

Traditionally, Heads of State and the Church washed the feet of the poor on this day, and gave gifts of cloth and food. In 1361, Edward III began the practice of giving alms to a number of poor people equal to his age, then 50. This continues to this day – the Queen presents specially minted silver Maundy coins (1d, 2d, 3d, and 4d) in purses to as many men and women as there are years in her age. She does this in a different cathedral town each year.

Coincidentally, Maundy Thursday falls on the Queen’s actual (85th) birthday this year, not to be confused with her “official” birthday in June, when the formal celebrations take place. Royalists rejoice!

22nd April – Good Friday

Hot cross buns are traditionally eaten for breakfast on Good Friday. The cross is a very obvious Christian symbol, but in fact they are pagan in origin! They were originally made in the shape of a bull, with the cross representing either the horns or the four quarters of the moon. The early church adopted them because of the distinctive cross.

23rd April – St George’s Day, Shakespeare’s “birthday”

stgeorgeSt George became the patron saint of England in the 13th century, but little is known about him, except that he lived in the 4th century and died at Lydda, Palestine.

Knighthoods of the Order of the Garter are bestowed on St George’s Day. Although the red rose is associated with the day, the saint’s colour is actually blue, after the colour of the original garter, and it is traditional to wear something blue.

shakespeareThe day is also celebrated as Shakespeare’s birthday, but the actual date of his birthday is unknown. He died on 23rd April, and – strangely – it was decided that was his birthday as well!

24th April – Easter Sunday

According to Christian scripture, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. This resurrection is celebrated on Easter Sunday.

The word “Easter” is derived from “Eostre”, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn and Spring. Her festival celebrated renewed growth after the dormant period of winter, in which the egg was the symbol of the life force, and hares were symbols of good luck and fertility. This is the origin of the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs.bugsbunny

In keeping with the spirit of renewal, new clothes were often bought and worn for the first time at Easter, particularly hats and gloves. This is how the tradition of the Easter bonnet evolved – women who could not afford a new one put fresh decorations on their old one.

25th April – Easter Monday Bank Holiday

Enjoy the long weekend – and look forward to another four-day weekend straight after!

29th April – Royal wedding

Just over a week after the Queen’s birthday, royalists rejoice again! And even if you’re not a royalist, rejoice anyway, because we all get an extra day off!

1st May – May Day

maypoleMay Day is strongly associated with the white blossom of the hawthorn (or “may blossom”), and it is likely that the traditional May Day was the day the first blossom was brought into the community, rather than the fixed date of May 1st.

The “Coming of the May” signalled the start of a period of celebrations and festivities unrivalled elsewhere in the calendar. So extravagant and widespread were the revels and games surrounding May Day that they were known widely as the May Day Riots, and provoked alarm and condemnation from the powers that be, both secular and ecclesiastical.

Maypoles were originally an ancient fertility symbol, a representation of the sacred tree of life. Originally, ring dances were performed round the maypole – the ribbon-plaiting dance we now associate with it only dates from the 19th century.

2nd May – May Bank Holiday

Enjoy the final day of the second four-day weekend!

5th May – Beltane

Beltane is a Celtic fire festival that marks the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It celebrates the peaking of the life force of spring and the approach of summer. It is a time to celebrate natural growth and fertility by wearing green, reverencing wells and springs, and staying up all night to jump the fires and welcome the dawn. The origin of modern May Day, it is a time to raise the Maypole and dance.

30th May – Spring Bank Holiday

In 2002 this bank holiday was moved from the last Monday in May to June 4th, following an extra bank holiday on June 3rd, which gave people a four-day weekend to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. It is currently planned to do the same thing in 2012, to form another four-day weekend, this time to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Chris Bell

April 2011 (Spring issue)