May Morning in Oxford – 1st May 2013



I wanted to share with you a little Oxford secret. Now pretty much everyone who lives or has ever lived in Oxford knows about this city tradition, but very few people outside the city do. It occurs on the 1st of May every year and it’s called May Morning.

May Morning has been a tradition for over 500 years and has become very popular. It’s origins as a pagan holiday representing the start of summer have become somewhat cloudy for the majority of people, but there is a very happy and celebratory mood apparent all the same.

It is customary that many colleges of the university of Oxford hold their summer ball on April 31st, thus introducing a night of revelry and debauchery which last until dawn the next morning, when crowds throng the Magdalen Bridge and the High Street waiting to hear the bells of Magdalen College tower at 6am to mark the start of summer.

Crossing Magdalen Bridge

Crossing Magdalen Bridge

Everyone waits, some joyous, some sleepy, some drunk, some still drinking for the festivities to begin (or end!)

Patiently waiting for the bells to chime

Patiently waiting for the bells to chime

The sunlight slowly began to creep up the side of Magdalen College tower and it all felt very magical. This year the High Street was full of people (must be about quarter of the population of Oxford!). At 6 on the dot the bells rang out. The bell tower gleamed golden with early morning sunlight and everyone cheered.

After the bell had tolled 6 times, the singing began. The Magdalen College Choir, perched atop the college tower began to sing the Hymnus Eucharisticus. This is followed by various other hymns, prayers to summertime and more bells and continues for around 20 minutes. You can see a great video of the morning’s festivities in the video below by David Clover.

After watching the Morris Dancing on the High Street we headed to The Grand Cafe to have breakfast, as is traditional on May Morning. The Grand Cafe claims to be ‘England’s Oldest Coffee House, founded 1650’ so it felt very appropriate to be breakfasting somewhere as traditional as May Morning itself. We were lucky to get a table quite quickly and by 7.15 we were enjoying a hearty breakfast with Bucks Fizz before walking walking to work for 9 am.


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