The rhododendrons, azaleas, and viburnums are abloom! Our annual May Day Parade and Maypole Dance, hosted by Brasstown Morris Dancers is just around the corner, on Saturday, April 28. Read about this spring tradition in The Folk School Cookbook. Here’s an excerpt from page 80, written by former Resident Artist in Cooking, Nanette Davidson.
When winter fades and the trees and shrubs burst into glorious bloom, the Folk School tractor lumbers out of the shed and is given a circular turn to mow around the Maypole field. For the last dozen years or more it’s been Jan or John Clarke who climbs to the top of the twenty-foot pole and wedges there a wooden ring holding many pairs of colorful ribbons. As he lets each ribbon drop to the ground, the inevitable wind tangles them up faster than we can put them in the hands of eager children and “grown-ups,” ready to weave them around the pole to the sound of the fiddle, accordion, and banjo.
May Day celebrations and maypole dancing go way back in Celtic history. Often a live tree was cut in the forest early one May morning and erected in the town square. The ensuing dance was a way to plead for a fruitful harvest and it was also an excuse to frolic in the fresh sunshine, one we still consider valid in rural Appalachia. During Victorian England, about the time that Olive Campbell was a lovely young woman, the originally pagan rite of spring was transformed into a celebration of maidens and virtue that spread across the pond to college campuses of women’s schools in the United States. Young women would dress in white and promenade the grounds. They would have tea and elect a queen of May.
I wanted to reintroduce Maypole dancing to the Folk School at a time when our garland team, Rural Felicity, had many young daughters participating. We were a ready group of women of all ages and we already had some white dresses. As those young girls grew up and moved on we invited new young dancers from the community to keep the tradition alive. Some brought their parents too. Now we gather up all of our Morris dancers, band, and ribbon bearers to parade through campus on the first Saturday of May. We stop in the Community Room, recite a verse, sing a song, and then invite all the dancers and students on campus to follow us down to the Maypole ground where a good time is had by all. Unless it rains. If it does, we do it indoors because we also have a portable Maypole, just in case.
You can pick up your own copy of “The Folk School Cookbook” here, on our Facebook page, or at the Folk School Craft Shop, Malaprops in Asheville, Highland Books in Brevard, Curiosity Shop in Murphy, Highlander Gallery in Brasstown, and City Lights in Sylva.
2019 Spring May Day Parade and Maypole Dance – Saturday, April 27
The Brasstown Morris Dancers & Band will lead a parade that begins at Festival Barn and ends at the Maypole located next to Davidson Hall. Watch Maypole and traditional dances performed by Stix in the Mud NW Border Morris, Rural Felicity Garland, Dame’s Rocket NW Clog Morris, and Magic Rapper. Guests are welcome! Bring your friends and family, a blanket and picnic lunch to enjoy after the dancing. Please park in the gravel lot on the corner of Brasstown and Harshaw Road.
11:45 a.m.: Parade begins at Festival Barn, crosses Brasstown Rd to Davidson Lane, and ends at the Maypole next to Davidson Hall.
12:00-12:30 p.m.: Maypole Dance (at the Maypole next to Davidson Hall) followed by Morris dancing on the drive next to the Craft Shop.
Tipper Pressley is the Marketing & Communications Assistant at the John C. Campbell Folk School.