Today’s Treasures – Summer – VE Day and Bank Holidays
Summer traditionally starts on 1st May at Beltane – the fire festival. Bonfires were lit to honour the Sun and encourage the support of Bel and the Sun’s light to nurture the emerging future harvest and protect the community. Houses were adorned with hawthorn blossoms – hawthorn was only brought into the home at Beltane – at other times it was considered unlucky.
The pagan practice of Mayday was disliked by the state. In 1645, the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell described maypole dancing as ‘heathenish wickedness’ and banned village maypoles – as well as closing theatres. Charles II was a much more conservative and tolerant king and when he came to power he re-opened theatres that had been closed by the Puritans – life in Britain was much more fun during the reign of Charles II so it’s understandable why 29th May was celebrated as Oak Apple Day and became a public holiday.
It commemorates the occasion after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, when Charles II escaped the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House. He subsequently fled to Europe. Traditionally, people wore oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves. Charles II survived the Black Death – in 1665 the death toll from the plague reached 7,000 per week – and in 1666 he and his brother James helped direct the fire crews during the Great Fire of London.
Today, being in the middle of another life-threatening crisis, VE Day celebrations to mark the end of World War II in Europe 75 years ago were somewhat subdued but nevertheless thought-provoking. Britain still has the courage and resilience of the British people all those years ago, the power that Churchill had with words that spoke to the British people – he refused to surrender and inspired everyone that by working together we could win our freedom – and we did.
On Thursday evenings, that same British spirit supports our keyworkers, our doctors and nurses at the front line of a different sort of battle – to win the war against this virus that threatens to overwhelm us. When we stand on our doorsteps clapping, we remember the spirit of those who fought during the war – on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets, in the hills – and – like them – we shall never surrender.