Karen Wright: Traditional May Day celebrations

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For many centuries, way back to pagan times, May 1 has held special significance, especially in European countries.

Karen Wright writes: Many traditions have evolved, many of which we still enjoy today – maypole dancing, Morris dancing, mummers’ plays, May baskets, May Queens and so on.

More recently, well as recent as 1889, May 1 was established as International Workers’ Day, a day when many countries throughout the world celebrate workers’ achievements and march in the streets demanding fair pay and better working conditions.

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Since 1978 in the UK, May 1 has been a bank holiday. This year coming hot on the heels of Easter.

Music at the Red ShedMusic at the Red Shed
Music at the Red Shed

I was invited by one of my oldest friends Steve Oxley to spend part of the holiday enjoying traditional celebrations in Wakefield’s Red Shed.

I had a great time, three hours of well-planned entertainment starting with music performed by Dave, Nicky and the two Steves. Mostly folk songs, protest songs and a sea shanty for good measure.

This was followed by a play performed by the Red Shed Players and then fabulous music again, this time performed by Grog.

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For me the highlight was another short performance by the Mummers, aka Red Shed Players and then, lastly, a spot of Morris dancing.

Mummers play performed by the Red Shed PlayersMummers play performed by the Red Shed Players
Mummers play performed by the Red Shed Players

Mummers also featured on the telly when I got back home, on the Antiques Roadshow. Mummers are troupes of masked people who go from house to house performing folk plays in exchange for food and money. Thought to originate in Medieval times, the plays are loosely based on St George and the dragon and are intended to show the struggle between good and evil.

When I was a young woman back in the 70s, I was a member of Featherstone Musical and Dramatic society, Steve was a member too and we did some fabulous shows, one of which was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

I was cast as one of the brothers, due to my deep voice I expect. A decade later found me on stage with the now defunct Hall Green Players, no singing this time just straight forward plays, some would say “thank goodness”. Perhaps it’s time I trod the boards again…

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