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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Maypole Leaf Forever

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
In a tiny valley nestled among the rolling hills in the county of Dorset, England is a little village called Whopping Lye. It is a community with a great wealth of tradition. There are morris dancers, sword dancers and, on the first day of May every year, Maypole dancers.

A Maypole is a vertical pole from which gaily coloured ribbons hang. The dancers weave their way around the pole intertwining the ribbons and then skilfully unwind them again as they reverse their steps. It is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years.

Whopping Lye's Maypole, in fact, has stood since the mid-fourteenth century. It is so firmly planted in the ground that the villagers have been unable to move it. It also has another distinction. The pole was crafted from unseasoned wood. Over the centuries the pole has developed roots and, every spring, sap rises up the pole.

Around about the mid-seventeenth century leaves started to appear at the top of the pole. All but the very peak of the great pole is brushed and scraped by the Maypole ribbons which destroys any buds that try to emerge. But at the very top, about thirty feet above the village green on which it stands, a small sprig of leaves sprouts at the beginning of May each year.

With the ringing of Morris Dancers' bells in the background, the villagers dance and sing to celebrate the traditional start to summer and to charm the leaves into making their annual appearance. The words of the song will be very familiar to Canadians:
The Maypole Leaf
Our Emblem Dear,
The Maypole Leaf Forever.
God save our Queen and heaven bless,
The Maypole Leaf Forever. 
The song was brought to Canada by early settlers and has become something of an anthem over here. But, as you sing its stirring lyrics always keep its real origin in mind. The story behind the song originates in a Whopping Lye from England.

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