Sunday, May 8, 2016
May 1700s - Cross-dressing May Day celebrations or The Garland Gone Wild
An 18C hand-colored print of chimney-sweeps’ May Day “Jack in the Green” celebrations in London. The portly “May Queen” on the right of the picture is probably a man. Bawdy & Bacchanalian these exuberant drunken celebrations of the coming in of Summer were gradually suppressed during the formality of the late Victorian period.
Traditional celebrations of the arrival of Summer on May Day had a rich cast of characters, not least the mysterious figure of the sinister Jack-in-the-Green, who wore a large, foliage-covered, garland-like framework, usually pyramidal or conical in shape, covering the body from head to foot. The costume was a development of the 16C & 17C custom of decorating homes (and people) with garlands of flowers & leaves for the May Day celebration.
After becoming a source of competition between Britain's Works Guilds, the garlands became increasingly elaborate, finally covering the entire man. This figure resulting from extreme garlanding became known as Jack-in-the-Green. For some reason the figure became particularly associated with chimney sweeps.