Garland Day

For centuries Sussex children have been making garlands on Mayday. Until 1874 Lewes kids would make garlands (rather like they still make guys in November) and beg passers-by for change; on that date the then Mayor JF Verrall decided to formalise the custom by creating ‘Garland Day’ and offering prizes for the best garlands. The practice petered out last century, but was revived in 1980 by the Knots of May and Chanctonbury Ring Morris teams, and it has been a popular family-oriented social fixture ever since. Most participants (either individuals or groups) pick flowers and greenery on the Sunday and leave them in a bucket overnight. Lilacs and May blossom are particularly popular. On Monday morning they attach the flora, using tape, string or gardening wire, to a base. This can be a coat hanger, a broomstick, a willow wand, or whatever.

Entries must be brought to the Gun Garden near the castle between 9.30am and 10pm. The two morris groups will dance while judging (by Mayor Merlin Milner) takes place, after which there is a procession down to Cliffe Precinct, where prizes will be awarded. Many children and their parents dress up for the procession. It’s all over by 11.15, but the Knots of May and the Chanctonbury Ring Morris teams will perform further dancing displays outside the John Harvey Tavern (11.45) and the Dorset Arms (1pm). Everybody’s welcome to join in: the organisers stress that you should only use fresh flowers, and respect the countryside when you’re picking them. AG

The Knots of May do their morris groove thang in the Gun Garden
in 2005