May Day in Alderney

20th April 2015

From the Guernsey Monthly Magazine, September 1891, p. 382.

The May Day festivities, as still celebrated in Alderney, belong to these. Half a century ago, and hence within the remembrance of an inhabitant, le jour de Mai was a holiday entirely in keeping with old-time tradition. The influx of strangers through the inception of the Government Works has had a deal to do with the abandonment, by the older people, of this fête, and its relgation among the sports of children. Fifty years ago, however, so say the old folks, May Day was esssentially the adults' festivity. Every street had its bunch of flowers strung up in the air across the roadway. There was one in the Bourgage, another near the Le Bair mansion in St Martin's, one dangled around that popular rendezvous, so familiarly known as the Blackguards' Corner, while another swung at the Marais 'where the pumps are,' near the residence now occupied by M. Henri Simon. Even the smaller rues and venelles, as La Rue des Vâches, Hauteville, and Braye-Street possessed each its fleurs de Mai.

Around each of these, at stated hours, a rhythmic hand-in-hand dance, to the measured strains of 'A mon beau Laurier' would be taken up, always ending in the renowned popular osculatory movement that constituted, for both sexes, its chief charm. Full bearded men in the prime of life, and buxom middle-aged women, mixed with the youths and maidens, and swung merrily round in the dance handed down in direct line from the ancient feast in honour of Roman Maia, the matron of motherhood. Often also this prolonged in to the twilight hour, when it then degenerated into a real saturnalia, worthy of the old-time bacchanals, of which the children's May Day festival of today is but a very weak milk-and-water imitation. Little do some of our Alderney people imagine, when they see the little ones in joyous whirl-the-go-round on May Day, that they have here a sport as old as the creation, in which their ancestors, even up to old age, found endless delight and recreation.