When the May Tree blossoms
The May Bush or Common Hawthorn flowers in the month of May as its name suggests. Before the re-adjustment of the calendar in 1752 the first blossoms often marked the beginning and continued to the end of the calendar month. In the average year now, you have to wait until around the 11th, although recent mild springs have brought the date forward.
The famous Glastonbury Thorn is said to have sprung from the staff of Joseph of Aramathea when he visited England to set up the first Christian church. Glastonbury is still a place of pilgrimage for the religious and assorted mystics.
The trees (one on top of Wearyall Hill and one each in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey and the Parish Church) are a variety of the Common Hawthorn (bi-flora) which has a second flowering period usually in early January (around Christmas Day before the calendar change of 1752).
It only grows true from cuttings such as the one at Appleton, Cheshire which, every July is decorated and danced around in the “Bawming of the Thorn” ceremony.
A sprig of flowering thorn use to be paraded through the streets of Helston as part of the famous Furry (of Flora) Dance. The first blossoms were just appearing by the 8th of May (the feast of the Apparition of St Michael).
“Ne’er cast a clout Till May be out” – don’t remove any clothing until the hawthorn is in blossom.
It is considered very unlucky to bring May blossom indoors.
Leigh Hunt (1774-1859)
If you should be out in a thunderstorm:
Beware the Oak, It draws a stroke
Avoid the Ash, It courts a flash
Creep Under a Thorn, It will save you from harm
The fair maid who the first of May,
Goes to the field at the break of day,
And washes in dew from the Hawthorn tree
Will ever after handsome be
O thou merry month complete
May, thy very name is sweet!
May was maid in olden times
And is still in Scottish rhymes:
May is the blooming hawthorn bough,
May’s the month that’s laughing now
Find Out More
‘May Day, The Coming Of Spring’ is a useful book on May Traditions, by Doc Rowe published by English Heritage and EFDSS.