“At the approach of May, the people assembled and chose some respectable individuals of their number – very grave and reverend citizens perhaps – to act the parts of Robin Hood and Little John, of the Lord of Disobedience or the Abbot of Unreason, and make sports and jocosities of them.” 
Over the past few months I have been busy researching and collecting information, stories and history about the related celebrations of May Day and Beltane, in preparation for the newly launched May Traditions Resource – a collated, accessible, free and fun online pack (similar to that produced for Halloween Guisers last year). Having known very little about all the various traditions beforehand, it has been a fascinating journey. In my research I have used the web extensively, but also literature like The Silver Bough by F. Marian McNeill and the wealth of material available at The School of Scottish Studies Archives.
Throughout this process, I have picked up various strands of traditions and customs that link together in places and morph apart in others. The Celtic celebration of Beltane has pre-Christian roots to paganism and held a deep, spiritual significance among communities across Scotland, where it was one of the most important celebrations in the Celtic calendar, along with Hallowe’en. And there were other May traditions more associated with the lowlands of Scotland and further south into England, for instance the vibrant and bawdy Robin Hood Games, or Plays.
So to accompany the Mummers resource, why not get involved with TradFest events to uncover more? May Mumming: Folk Drama Workshop (30 May) led by Stan Reeves, Shane Connolly and Donald Smith promises to be a lively introduction to the range of folk plays and mumming traditions once enjoyed across Scotland and the small communities reviving the artform. There will be a particular focus on Robin Hood plays, which were banned by Mary of Guise in 1555, causing so much outrage that there were crowd riots outside the Netherbow Port, the very place where the Scottish Storytelling Centre stands now!
Discover the magic of Mummer performance at the Mummer’s Ceilidh Dance with the Robert Fish Band (Fri 6 May), which incorporates a traditional performance of The Galoshins from the Meadows Mummers, as well as plenty of ceilidh dancing to round off the night. And the annual May Day Parade & Rally (Sat 7 May) – campaigning for Workers’ and Human Rights – gets a splash of colour from the TradFest mummers celebrating the start of the summer months, with an open call for all to get involved in the procession.
After the merriment of TradFest, we keep it going with the Merry Madness of May workshop (27 May) led by the School of Scottish Studies’ Dr Neill Martin, who will give an introduction to May seasonal customs, the carnival spirit and the changing picture in Scotland today, followed by a guided tour through the new May Traditions Resource.
So a happy May and merry mumming to you all! E. J. Guthrie, Old Scottish Customs Local and General (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co, 1885), p. 42.
Picture Credit: Ásta Ásbjörnsdóttir
Morag Wells, Digital and Languages Apprentice for TRACS | firstname.lastname@example.org