It was today, 1st May 1978, that we in Great Britain celebrated a new day off from work! It was called the May Day Bank holiday! Being British, and free from a daily work whatever that might be, many of those that could went walking in their local park. All across the country many of the park keepers had made plans for people to be able to play games or fly a kite, or do whatever caught their fancy.
May Day itself – May 1st – is not a public holiday in England (unless it falls on a Monday). Introduced by the then employment secretary Michael Foot in 1978, many opposed the move saying a May Day holiday was essentially a communist idea because most countries behind the Iron Curtain used May 1st to celebrate International Workers’ Day. The BBC at the time described the inaugural May Day as a “dismal washout” after most of the country suffered from downpours.
It was, though, the most recent of the current eight bank holidays to be set in stone. The first ones were set in legislation in 1871.May Day may have its roots in ancient pagan rites of spring, but its place in the calendar as a bank holiday is fairly modern. In years gone by ladies had hoped for a morning dew as that was regarded as being excellent for the complexion – particularly for the removal of freckles!
In 1881 a comment in Northeast Scotland told ladies that: ‘Washing the face with dew gathered on the morning of the first day of May kept it from being tanned by the sun and becoming freckled.’
For many this is still being recommended – a published comment from Lincolnshire in 1992 said they were told by other women that ‘Wash your face in the May dew, it’s good for your skin and will bring you good luck in the year.’ Now, by the time you read this, all the benefits of this morning’s May dew will be gone – BUT..
Samuel Pepys, in his diary entry of 28th May 1667, describes how his wife Elizabeth had got up early to gather the dew. He writes: ‘After dinner, my wife away down with Jane and W Hewer to Woolwich in order to a little ayre, and to lie there tonight and so to gather May dew tomorrow morning, which Mrs Turner hath taught her as the only thing in the world to wash her face with, and I am contented with it.’