Jack in the Green, Hastings

A bit of pagan revelry beside the English seaside

One of the things that always fascinated me about England was the remnants of pagan history around the country. From the stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury Ring to the strange bearded Morris Men ringing their bells and clacking their sticks outside pubs on Boxing Day, they are a reminder of the country’s freaky side.

Having watched The Wicker Man as a kid, I always imagined a dark pyscho-sexual element as well.

So, when I heard about the Jack in the Green festival in Hastings, I just had to check it out.

It’s held every May Day long weekend, and culminates in a huge parade of elaborately decorated people, all covered in leaves.

The tradition can be traced back to 16th Century England when milkmaids and chimney sweeps began making garlands of flowers and leaves to celebrate May Day.

The garlands became more and more elaborate as the various Work Guilds tried to out do each other. At first the milkmaids simply carried the garlands on their heads. One year a garland was so big it covered an chimney sweep.

Jack in the Green was born.

The tradition died out around the late 1880s when chimney sweeps were banned and giant maypoles with drunken and promiscuous behaviour were replaced with small poles imported from Germany with happy children skipping around them.

Thankfully the tradition was revived by the Mad Jacks Morris Dancers in 1983. The parade is not as drunken and promiscuous as the old days. But the costumes are more elaborate than ever.

I spotted the Fantastic Mr Fox featured in the header image taking a breather, half way along the route from the Fisherman’s Huts in Rock-a-Nore Road to the top of West Hill. He was parading with a deer in a rather sheer slip.

He only wore a crown of foliage. As you can see in the gallery below, others in the parade looked like walking hedges.

It was all a bit Wicker Man. And I loved it.

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