The roots of May Day can be traced back at least 2,000 years. The celebration as we know it in the UK today is the result of melding Pagan, Roman and Medieval traditions.
The Celts and British Pagan Heritage
New life and fertility with the coming of summer were marked by the ancient Celts with May Poles and dancing. The May Pole is a tall pole with coloured ribbons tied to the top. Originally the pole would have been a tree cut when it reached the correct height and with the branches cut off, a powerful symbol since the Celts worshipped trees. Young men and women would each hold a ribbon and would dance weaving in and out of each other to plait the ribbons into a complex patterns. The pole signified fertility and dancing around it was supposed to bring this benefit to the dancers.
The Celts divided their year by 4 major festivals. The first day of summer was called Beltane, 'the fire of Bel'. Bel was the sun god worshipped by Celts across Continental Europe, Britain and Ireland. Beltane was celebrated with bonfires to welcome the new season. Fire was believed to cleanse, purify and increase fertility. The Celts jumped over the fire to pledge themselves to each other. Animals were driven through the smoke to protect them from diseases. At Beltane, couples went A-Maying - spending the night in the woods, fields and brought back May and hawthorn blossoms as a sign of fertility and the new season.
In England this became May Day but in Scotland the festival is still known as Beltane. In Edinburgh the spectacle now includes fire displays, drumming, processions with pipe bands and plenty of body paint.
During the 300 year long Roman occupation of Britain the Floralia was celebrated. Flora was the goddess of flowers and spring and the festival in her honour was held for 6 days at the end of April. The celebration was for everyone, not just the nobility, and was all about pleasure, fertility and flowers. The festival included games and dancing so it is easy to see where the flowers, foliage and fun elements of modern British May Day stem from.
Morris dancers are traditional folk dancers. This form of dance dates back to Medieval times. The earliest written record of a Morris dancing performance in England is from 1448 but the origins of Morris are lost in the mists of time. Morris dancing used to be confined to male performers but nowadays both men and women take part. Traditionally dressed in white with strips of bells on their legs, colourful neckerchiefs and belts across their chests, Morris dancers perform jigs, kicks, jumps and set patterns. Morris dancers have become closely associated with May Day. Performing with wooden poles and handkerchiefs, they are a wonderful sight, especially on a village green on a sunny day.
Georgian Era and After May Day Customs
Jack-in-the-Green is a May Day character first recorded in 1770. The man playing Jack is dressed in a conical wicker or wooden framework covered in foliage. The look is completed with green face paint. The character is likely to have evolved from an earlier tradition of milkmaids carrying milk pails decorated with flowers. The use of foliage and flowers firmly associates this tradition with the spring/summer season and the fertility and new life it brings. The tradition went out of favour in the 20th century but has been recently revived and the Jack-in-the-Green features in several May Day celebrations in England.
Hobby horses (or 'Obby 'Osses) feature in festivals in Padstow and Minehead. Music accompanies the wild dancing of the 'osses which are men dressed in 6ft wide wooden hoops draped in black sailcloth and wearing fearsome masks. The origins of the tradition are not known but theories abound. The 'obby 'oss is a rainmaker, a fertility symbol or a deterrent to a landing by the French, or a welcome to summer, dependent on which legend you believe.
Another local festivity in early May is the Helston Floral Festival. This centuries old tradition is most likely to stem from the anniversary of the apparition of St Michael (patron saint of the parish church in Helston) on May 8th. Heralded by an early morning ringing of the church bells, Floral Day features the Furry Dance which weaves in and out of the streets and local houses. The male dancers dress in top hats and tails and the females in beautiful, colourful dresses. Flora Day also features the Hal-an-Tow, a mummers play where St George and St Michael slay the Dragon and the Devil. The players are cheered on by a crowd dressed in Lincoln green and Elizabethan robes.
As the dawn breaks in Dorset on May 1st, Morris Men dance on the site of the old maypole above the Cerne Abbot Giant. Local folklore has long held that the huge chalk figure carved into the hillside is an aid to fertility. The dancing moves to the village square, then a well-deserved breakfast.
Queen of the May is a girl who personifies springtime and summer on May Day. Traditionally she wears white to symbolise purity and a garland or crown. In some older village traditions, there was a Lord and Lady or King and Queen of the May. This custom persists in some areas of England but the Queen of the May is everywhere seen.
Places to Celebrate in Early May
To book your holiday at any UK celebrations of May Day, get in touch with our staycation experts.
In Greece, well-being has a long history. What is not widely known is that Greece has many therapeutic thermal springs, mostly on the mainland but not exclusively. From antiquity to today, these numerous thermal springs and spas have alleviated ailments, revitalised the body and the mind, stimulated and relaxed the body and soul. The waters from the springs have a blend of natural minerals that can have a positive effect to humans in a number of ways. Thermal water is known to help improve the condition of various skin decease like eczema among others; it also helps in medical conditions like rheumatism, arthritis and gynaecological problems.
According to the Special Committee for the Protection of Natural Mineral Springs, there are 20 recognised thermal springs in Greece. Here is our pick of the best.
The oldest and best known natural spa in Greece. Edipsos is mentioned in the works of Aristotle, Plutarch and Strabon. The town even minted its own coins. In Roman times the area flourished and its healing waters were visited by the emperors Hadrian, Septimus Severus and Marcus Aurilius and remains of the Roman Baths still exist.
It is possible to bathe in the rock pools where steaming hot water pours through, leaving multicoloured sediment in strange formations. It gets very busy and there can be jellyfish so most people nowadays prefer to enjoy the healing benefits at one of the many spa hotels in the area. Perhaps the most historic is the Thermae Sylla Spa, which is built on two ancient thermal springs.
The healing properties of the thermae is due to the sodium chlorides, strongly carbonated and moderately sulphurated waters. The baths are recommended to be taken at temperatures of 28 to 34o C for a range of conditions, from rheumatism and arthritis to skin and respiratory diseases. It is certainly a relaxing way to feel better.
Vouliagmeni Lake, Attica
Located in the Attica region just outside Athens, Lake Vouliagmeni is a spectacular natural phenomenon. Formed as a covered lagoon about 2,000 years ago, the roof collapsed. This gave the lake it's name, from the Greek word “vouliazo” that means to submerge. It is now a national monument and part of the Natura 2000.
The lake’s waters are fed both by the sea and the underground thermal springs and so offer an excellent thermal spa experience. Swimming in the lake promotes wellness from the water temperature of between 22-29 degrees and the minerals in the brackish water. The healing properties of the lake come from its potent mix of salts and minerals (sodium, potassium, lithium, ammonium, calcium, iron, chlorine, iodine and a small amount of radiation). The lake also contains Garra Rufa fish (known as spa fish) which aid exfoliation as well as giving you a massage!
Around the lake there are grassy areas equipped with sunbeds and umbrellas for relaxation. A range of amenities are available, including Wi-Fi, changing rooms, lifeguards and medical facilities, playground, parking, etc. All in all, Lake Vouliagmeni provides an outstanding natural spa experience.
Loutra Pozar, Aridea
Located in the Pella region of Greece, Loutra Pozar thermal baths are at the bottom of the Vouras mountain, fed by waterfalls. Pozar hot springs are created by rain water, which penetrates deep into the ground, where is heated and then gradually rises and is enriched with minerals and other elements. The water has a constant temperature of 37 °C and can be enjoyed in the natural swimming pools or in a bath at one of the spas. The water has healing properties against arthritis, kidney diseases, skin diseases, gynaecological problems and circulatory problems.
Pozar's hot springs are a short distance from Loutraki and Edessa, located amongst huge trees. For those wanting to combine nature, relaxation and healing waters, Loutra Pozar is the perfect choice.
Take some respite from the vibrant and bustling city of Thessaloniki at Lagkada. The first balneotherapy (bathing in the thermal waters) facilities in the region of Lagadas dated back to 900 AD. It is thought that the baths were created by Ioustinianos, a byzantine military doctor. Today, two baths from the years 900 and 1400 are still used. Modern day development of the baths began in 1925 and today Lagadas is a large and thermal city. In addition to the ancient baths are two modern group tubs, 21 individual jacuzzis and 20 personal tubs. Face and body treatments, beauty and rehabilitation care are available.
The hot springs curative water is 39oC and contains sodium, potassium and calcium amongst other minerals. The waters are recommended for rheumatism, arthritis, gynaecological ailments, skin and kidney problems.
The springs at Kallithea have been famous since Hellenic times for their beneficial properties. The waters flowing into the sea from the surrounding rocks attracted visitors from all over the known world. Kallithea Thermal Spa that we can see today was built by the occupying Italians in December 1928. The buildings were damaged during World War II and allowed to fall into disrepair until Kallithea town council and its mayor, Yannis Iatridis, renovated the site. The springs were restored to their former glory with great attention to detail and were successfully reopened to the public.
The waters of Kallithea are thought suitable for the treatment of arthritis, skin conditions, obesity, diabetes, tropical diseases, dysentery, malaria, allergies, asthma, cystitis, diarrhoea and intestinal conditions.
Having swum in the healing waters and walked through the fabulous art deco buildings and seen the wonderful local black and white pebble floors, I can highly recommend a visit to this spa.
The thermal springs of Loutraki promotes wellbeing and revitalization of the body. It is also thought to treat and prevent various diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, gynaecological disorders, sciatica, musculoskeletal complaints, and skin disorders. The healing waters have been known since ancient times, indeed Xenophon refers to the use of this special water by the Spartans. These thermal spas have turned Loutraki into an important tourist attraction in Greece, due partly to its fame and partly due to its convenient position just one hour from Athens and close to the Corinth Canal.
20th century visits to benefit from the healing waters were boosted by containing the springs in a spa built in 1932. Restored in 2009 and connected to the luxurious modern building of Loutraki Thermal Spa, a host of treatments are offered here in addition to balneotherapy. A charming town has grown up at Loutraki and it makes a great base for an exploration of the region.
Agios Fokas, Kos
The therma or hot springs are situated in the southeastern corner of the island 13 kilometers away from Kos town at Agios Fokas. The area has a wild beauty of deep gulches, rocks and black pebbles, the result of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago.
The hot springs have been present here for centuries. The waters reputed healing properties result from water rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulphur and sodium, elements considered beneficial in curing skin, arthritic or rheumatic ailments. The temperature of the waters hovers between 30-50 Celsius.
A pool has been dug so that seawater enters, cooling the hot thermal waters so that it is pleasant to bathe in. The time I visited the area (some years ago!) the pool didn't exist so you either sat in very hot water or cool sea water. Even so, it was still on of the great experiences of any visit to Kos.
For those seeking to combine mountain sports with a touch of nature’s luxurious sensations, the mythical Lake Drakolimni offers a unique experience. At an altitude of 2,050 meters, on the Gamila peak, in Epirus region, Lake Drakolimni is not an easy conquest. The path up to the lake, which starts from the village Small Papigon, takes about 4 hours to walk, giving visitors the chance to enjoy diving into the bracing waters.
If you want to promote your wellbeing and health, the natural thermal springs of Greece are a great choice. It is easy to add them to a Greek holiday itinerary. Get in touch with us for more details.
Travel planning can be daunting. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially when it is a complicated itinerary or a long world-spanning journey.
I have planned countless trips and holidays for over the years (for myself, friends, family and customers) and understand how getting the essentials right is key. So here is a step-by-step guide on how to travel plan effectively and with less stress.
1. Decide on your destination(s)
This sounds as though it should be the easiest step of all. With all the destination guides available on the internet nowadays there can be a risk of information overload unless you have a clear idea to start with. Instead of thinking that you want to go to a continent or country, it is much better to hone in on a specific region, island or city. Saying that you are going to Antigua rather than the Caribbean concentrates your mind and makes planning much smoother. Guidebooks and maps are also useful ways of finding out more about your chosen destination, routes and culture.
2. Decide the length of your trip
How long are you going away for? Until you know that you can't have a concrete plan. Sometimes it will be dependent on how much time off you have from work. Other times you might be flexible from 7 to 10 days. Try to be specific, for example "I'm going to Antigua for 14 nights". This will make it easier for you to find the right flight, hotel or package out of the vast array available.
3. Cost planning
Now you know where you want to go, where you going and how long you are going for, you need to set a budget. Firstly consider your style of travel, luxury hotels, all inclusive, backpacking, etc. You can then check out costs online on holiday comparison sites. Travel forums are also useful to find out how much things cost in your chosen destination. This gives you a guide as to how much you'll need for spending money. Don't forget to check the exchange rate so you know how much local currency you'll need to order. These days I find it more economical to get a small amount of currency for immediate needs on arrival then get what I need from the ATM in the destination. Of course this won't work if you're going somewhere remote!
4. Check for last minute deals
It's always worth checking travel offers to see if you can save money. You may dream of Antigua but perhaps there are special offers to Barbados right now. Maybe you can get an upgraded cabin on a cruise, or maybe you can go further for your budget. The world is a big place and there are so many places to see. Sometimes you can get a better deal if you're flexible. This does, of course, mean that you start your destination research again. But it is much quicker when the place has already been chosen.
5. Package deal or separate elements?
It is most often better to book your holiday as a package if you are taking a stay-put holiday in one destination. If you're planning a trip itinerary with multiple stops then you will almost certainly have to book your flight, accommodation and transfers separately.
6. Plan your activities
OK, so you have planned how to get to your destination and where you are staying, now you need to think about what you'll do when you get there. Of course you don't need to know every detail, just outline the major activities you want to enjoy and have an idea of the cost. Activities available will vary dependent on your destination and again, Tripadvisor forums can be really helpful. You can ask fellow travellers or local residents whether you can parascend, bungee jump or horse ride. Find out which local suppliers offer quad biking, surfing, gorge climbing or child-friendly activities. The internet is also a great place to find out more about landmarks that you want to discover on your sightseeing days. Not forgetting which are the best restaurants to try. Whatever you want to do you should make sure that your insurance covers it, particularly adrenaline sports.
Now you've decided where you are going, when, how and what you'll be doing when you get there, you are ready to plan what you need to take with you. A great tip to ensure you don't forget anything is to have a packing checklist. I've been using the same list for over 30 years and it hasn't changed much - apart from replacing the Walkman, camera and film with my mobile phone!
Make sure you include the essentials such as passport, tickets and money. You can add types of clothing and footwear (the checklist stops me forgetting nightwear!), toiletries, medication, etc. What you pack depends entirely on where you are going but I just cross off what I don't need from the list and add extras. When I go shopping pre-trip I take the list with me and highlight items as I buy them. When I pack my suitcase I lay out the items on the bed first and tick them off the list before packing the case. Happy days.
Why not download my checklist to get you started?
Still feeling overwhelmed? Why not use an experienced travel agent to make the travel planning process a cinch. Tasteful Travel are with you every step of the planning journey and can support you before, during and after your holiday.