Sunday, 4 May 2014

Jack in the Green - Blue Bell Hill

Now winter is over I'm happy to say
And we're all met again in our ribbons so gay
And we're all met again on the first day of spring

To go about dancing with Jack in the green
Wake up Jack!
Image credit: SM Jenkin

On mayday every year at 5.32 am precisely, while the first rays of sunshine are starting to illuminate the picnic spot at blue bell hill, the spirit of summer is summoned.

The spirit of summer, embodied in an 8 foot high walking bush called Jack in the green, is woken up with the recitation of a beautiful song. Jack is crowned with a beautiful circle of red flowers before he joins in with the enthusiastic Morris Dance sides, who are ready to dance in any weather!. For the rest of the sweeps festival, Jack - in - the - green will be seen joining in the dance up and down Rochester high street until the final parade on Monday afternoon.

Every year, we have the debate about how old the ceremony is. How similar is it to the rituals people must have performed here years ago, before the romans, going back to a time as nebulous as the lwo level mist that surrounded us that morning. It's hard to tell - the sources of information are either missing or written from a bias perspective. The current sweeps festival revival dates back to 1980 and was inspired by a description of the sweeps festival in Dicken's work. Like so many other activities "revived" in the Victorian era, its hard to tell if they were revived, inspired or simply invented because they "should" exist.

But does it matter if we are doing something different to what has gone before? The organisers are obvious in their respect for those who arranged similar celebrations before the revival, and have worked hard to make something meaningful for people to connect with now. And long may it continue!

An interesting article about the sweeps festival is in the KM here
Some information about Jack-in-the-green all over the UK is available from The Company of the Green Man