Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Hastings Jack-in-the-Green, 2014.

Posted on by royvickery |

2014-05-05 10.21.29The annual Jack-in-the-Green festival was held in Hastings, East Sussex, on the Early May Bank Holiday, Monday 5 May. Jack-in-the-Green, a frame covered in greenery carried by a man, was at one time considered to be a survival of an ancient fertility figure, but work by Roy Judge [1] in the 1970s revealed that in fact he evolved as recently as the late 18th century when he appeared as one of a variety of urban begging activities which took place on May Day, when it was particularly associated with chimney-sweeps. In most places the custom died out early in the 20th century, but it has been revived by morris dancers and others in a small number of places.

In Hastings the festival was revived in the early 1980s after a gap of about 100 years.  Earlier in the weekend a number of folk events are held.  On Monday morning  Jack leads a procession through the town followed by morris dancers, drummers and giants, and watched by large crowds, before being taken to the Castle grounds, where visiting morris sides perform.  At 3.30 p.m. the proceedings are brought to a close as Jack is ‘symbolically slain and the the Spirit of Summer is released for another year’. For many years Jack’s frame has been covered with sprigs of rhododendron 2014-05-05 10.39.08(Rhododendron ponticum) and topped by a crown composed mainly of chrysanthemums (Dendranthema cvs).  Most of the people in the procession and many of the onlookers wear wreaths of ivy (Hedera helix) intertwined with artificial or seasonal flowers.  Pubs and other buildings are decorated with wreaths or bunches, mainly of cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus).  Thus, although the festival is considered to be a celebration of spring the plants most associated with it are evergreens or florists’ chrysanthemums which are available throughout the year. At present the number of giants taking part seems to be diminishing, and the number of drumming troupes increasing.  People who remember the time when morris dancing was considered to be a fertility ritual which had to be performed by men might be surprised to see that no male-only side participated in the 2014 procession; there were mixed sides and women’s sides, but no men’s side.

1.  R. Judge, The Jack-in-the-Green, ed. 2, London, 2000.

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