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A leaflet

A Jack in the Green (also Jack in the green, Jack-in-the-green, Jack i' the Green, Jack o' the Green etc) is a participant in traditional English May Day parades and other May celebrations, who wears a large, foliage-covered, garland-like framework, usually pyramidal or conical in shape, which completely covers their body from head to foot.


Description

Jack is a colorful figure, almost 3m (nine feet) tall, covered in greenery and flowers. In Whitstable, he is accompanied by two attendants, almost invariably drawn from the ranks of Oyster Morris, representing the legendary figures of Robin Hood and Maid Marian. In Hastings, he is also accompanied by attendants, here known as Bogies, who are completely disguised in green rags, vegetation, and face paint. The attendants play music, dance and sing as they guide Jack through the streets to celebrate the coming of Summer.

A Jack in the Green in Kingston upon Thames, in the mid 1970s


History

In the 16th and 17th centuries in England people would make garlands of flowers and leaves for the May Day celebration. After becoming a source of competition between Works Guilds, these garlands became increasingly elaborate, to the extent that it covered the entire man. This became known as Jack in the Green. For some reason the figure became particularly associated with chimney sweeps; there are several explanations thereof, but none has been proven conclusively.

A chimney sweeps' Jack in the Green dances with the "Lord and Lady of the May" (probably both played by men) in 18th-century London

By the turn of the 19th century the custom had started to wane as a result of the Victorian disapproval of bawdy and anarchic behavior. The Lord and Lady of the May, with their practical jokes, were replaced by a pretty May Queen, while the noisy, drunken Jack in the Green vanished altogether from the parades.

Jack in the Green was revived in Whitstable, Kent in 1976 and continues to lead an annual procession of Morris dancers through the town on the May Bank Holiday. A separate revival occurred in Hastings in 1983 and has become a major event in Hastings Old Town calendar. Ilfracombe in North Devon has had a Jack in the Green procession and celebration since 2000. It is supported by local schoolchildren, dancing around the May Pole on the sea front, and by local morris men and dance groups from in and around the district.

Revivals of the custom have occurred in various parts of England; Jacks in the Green have been seen in Bristol and Deptford and Knutsford, among other places. Jacks also appear at May Fairs in North America.


Parallels

Amongst modern "folkies" and neo-pagans the Jack in the Green has become identified with the mysterious Green Man depicted in medieval church carvings and is widely felt to be an embodiment of natural fertility, a spirit of the primeval greenwood and a trickster; by extension he is linked to such mythological characters as Puck, Robin Goodfellow, Robin Hood, the Green Knight and others.

Similar characters to the English Jack in the Green were known in parts of Europe and Russia, and may be still. Some were involved in mock sacrifice, where the leafy framework was thrown or ducked into a pond or river (sometimes with the person still inside it). These festivities were variously associated with Easter Monday, St George's Day (23rd of April), May Day, and Whitsuntide. Occasionally the disguise was straw rather than leaves, a link with the straw bears of German Carnival (and the sole English example, the Whittlesea Straw Bear), suggesting these particular figures personified Winter rather than Spring or Summer. Folklorist Sir James Frazer cited many examples in The Golden Bough.

Other related figures in Britain include the Burry Man of South Queensferry and the Garland King of Castleton, Derbyshire, who parades on Oak Apple Day.


Art/Fiction

  • British progressive rockgroup Jethro Tull recorded a song called Jack-In-The-Green on their 1977 album Songs From The Wood.
  • Pianist Jools Holland wrote a track called Jack O The Green in conjunction with Suggs of Madness after Suggs witnessed an ancient ceremony in Whitstable, where the coming of Spring is celebrated with the Jack o' The Green parading through the streets to an old English folk melody. Having heard this each year Suggs was captivated by it. On holiday in Tuscany he saw a band of local musicians gather with traditional Tuscan instruments in a small village square. Their own Green Man appeared and much to Suggs' surprise they played the same tune. Their collaboration takes the folk melody, creates a variation on it, and sets them to ska rhythms.
  • Jack in the Green is the name of Painting No. 10 in the Masquerade (book) by Kit Williams. The main character, Jack Hare, appears in disguise on each page of the story: in this picture he is a transparent green jelly in a shop window; this is a pun on Jack in the Green and the moulded shape of the jelly itself bears a vague resemblance to a Jack in the Green.
  • A character called Jack in the Green has appeared in a number of comic books, including Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days, Swamp Thing Vol.2 #47 and Hellblazer: Lady Constantine #s 1, 2 and 3.


References

  • Atkinson, Allen (1989). Jack in the Green, Crown Pub. ISBN 0-517-56594-3.
  • Gross, Paul (illus), Crofts, Sarah Jane (2002). Fowler's Troop and the Deptford Jack in the Green: A History of an Old London May Day Tradition, Rainbarrow P. ISBN 0-9542661-0-2.
  • Frazer, James (2004). The Golden Bough, Canongate Books Ltd. ISBN 1-84195-432-2. - see Chapter 10: Relics of Tree Worship in Modern Europe
  • Judge, Roy. The Jack in the Green, The Folklore Society. ISBN 0-903515-20-2.
  • Judge, Roy (1979). The Jack in the Green, a May Day Custom, D S Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-029-6.
  • Leech, Keith (1989). Hastings Jack in the Green, Keith Leech. ISBN 0-9514498-0-X.
  • Leech, Keith (1989). Jack in the Green in Tasmania 1844-1973, Folklore Society Library. ISBN 1-871903-00-9.
  • The Jack-in-the-Green, book review in White Dragon #29, Imbolc (March) 2001
  • Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens, Chapter XX - The First of May