Until 1752 the idea of celebrating the 1st of May without garlands of hawthorn was unthinkable. You may know the old song ‘Here We Go Gathering Nuts in May’, if so, you may have asked yourself what tree has nuts in May in the UK. The answer is none: the song was originally ‘Here We Go Gathering Knots in May’, a knot in this case refers to the blossom of the tree.
May Day, but possibly no hawthorn blossoms
Since the 1752 change in the calendar brought May Day forwards by thirteen days the hawthorn blossoms may not be out by 1st of May. Yet, the flower of this ancient tree still remains associated with this time of year.
There are two types of hawthorn found in the UK; Crataegus momogyna and Crataegus laevigata (the English or Midland hawthorn). The first smells divine whereas the latter is said to smell of putrefaction. The hawthorn is closely linked to fairy lore, particularly when it grows near an oak and ash tree. Deeply breathing in the fragrance of Crataegus momogyna is said to help you see into the other world.
In Ireland, clotties to their branches
In Ireland hawthorn trees sometimes have rags or ribbons tied to their branches, these pieces of fabric known as clotties represent the wishes and prayers of the local population. Hawthorn flowers may look lovely but they were only used outside, once brought inside the home they were said to presage death.