FlashBack Friday – Magdalen Bridge

Sadly, I have none of my own pictures for this post.  Trust me, I wish I did.

When I was in college I did a junior year abroad.  I went to St. Anne’s College, Oxford University to study British history and literature.  It was an incredible experience and there are many aspects of that trip that I will discuss in future FlashBack Friday posts.

Today, the day after May Day, I want to talk about the ‘traditional’ Oxford May Day celebrations.  (I say ‘traditional’ in inverted commas because there is a bit of doubt about this fact.  While some claim the Magdalen Bridge jump is a tradition, others vehemently claim it began only as recently as the 1960s.)  But first, let’s take a look at the May Day holiday (because I’m a hopeless pedant, that’s why).

May Day is traditionally marked as May 1st and is the  half way point between the equinox and the solstice.  Many countries have some form of May Day celebration.  France celebrates May 1st with a tradition of presenting people with Lilies of the Valley as a sign of spring.  It is believed that this tradition began with Charles IX in the mid 16th century.  In Germany Walpurgisnacht is a a celebration on the night before May Day that includes dancing around a May Pole and lighting bonfiresHawaii has its own version of May Day, called Lei Day, on which traditional island culture and cultural rites are celebrated.  Ireland (and by Gaelic extension, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and the Isle of Man) also has a may Day celebration.  It is called BeltaneBeltane marks the beginning of the planting season and marks the opposite end of the ancient Celtic calendar, the fall being marked by Samhain.  While the custom of celebrating Beltane has largely fallen out of practice, one can still see windowsills and doors decorated with May boughs.  It is also still possible to spend an evening by the Beltane fire or decorating the rowan or hawthorn bush.  And, of course, no Beltane night is complete without some drunken revelry.

And yes, I promise that I will soon talk about my years in Ireland during my FlashBack Friday ramblings.

Back to Oxford:

Oxford England has had a custom of celebrating May Morning for years.  Of course, the night before May morning is  spent (at least by the people *I* know) drinking in the long hours before sunrise at a pub lock-in.  This, admittedly, was a tradition I was more than willing to play along with as it extended my birthday revelries. 😉  As the sun comes up, hung over, still drunk, or as sober as monks throngs of people gather on the High Street and the Magdalen bridge to hear the Magdalen College Choir sing the Hymnus Eucharisticus.  It is a beautiful sound, as it should be.  The Magdalen Choir has been singing the in celebration of May Day for over 500 years, obviously not with the same choir members.  What is really amazing is the vast differences in types of people standing on the bridge listening in near silence to the music.  Shoulder to shoulder you can find monks, punks, towns and gowns (terms used to refer to the rivalry between attendees of the University and the local population), people in faerie costumes or togas, women in formal gowns and men in tuxedos, and people of both sexes in pajamas.

But of course, that’s not the exciting part.  Although the bridge jumping escapades may be fairly new in their execution, while I was living in Oxford in 94-95 they were in full force.  Let me tell you, the river is not deep, but it sure as hell isn’t warm either.  After a raucous night of drinking heavily I found myself amidst a crush of friends on the bridge neither seeing nor thinking clearly.  Sure!  Sounds like a great idea!

photo courtesy of BBC NEWS

Only one other time in my life was a shocked back into sobriety as quickly and that was also due to hitting icy cold water from a height of several meters… but that’s a story about Ireland and for another time.

The rest of the day was spent with the hair of the dog at various pubs around town, once we had all gone home to change into something a little less wet and cold followed by a long nap on the college green.

Want to play along? FlashBack Friday posts can be any medium you choose, photographic, video, music, or just a story. Share your flashback on Fridays and link back to me. Visit other participants and get some dirt on your fellow bloggers. )


~ by CableGirl on Friday, May 2, 2008.

14 Responses to “FlashBack Friday – Magdalen Bridge”

  1. Isn’t it amazing what we do in our youth! “The river’s not deep”…you seem to have said that to make us think it less dangerous. For me, it had the opposite effect. I’m thinking it could have been not deep enough and you could have really hurt yourself.

  2. Waaaaaaaaaaaggggghhhhhh! Would you do it again?
    I think I’d do it. Maybe.
    I love your adventures.


  3. Ironically in Germany this year May 1st was a triple-header. Walpurgisnacht was scheduled jointly with Himmelfahrt, the day of Christ’s ascension to heaven, and Maennerstag, better known as Father’s Day. Thus, one has a choice of fathers on May 1st: heavenly or infernal =)

  4. This is great! Only something I would do in my younger days. Aaaah, I miss being that stupid and fun.

  5. I can honestly say I have never been that drunk!

  6. I would have been right beside you. *lol*

    And you know, your multi-colored text drives me nuts. I hover over each colored word, thinking there’s a link.

    *shakes fist*

  7. How great to hear that choir! The plunge? Not so exciting to contemplate. Yowza!

  8. I too would have been right there with you every step of the way. I miss the impetuousness of youth sometimes… great story, as usual.

  9. Is it strange that I think that must have been really fun and am somewhat jealous that I haven’t experienced anything like that? Don’t tell my kids!

  10. I’m a wuss – there’s no way I’d ever do that. Just the thought of it would sober me up!

  11. I miss the free-spiritedness of my youth. Lately I’ve been trying to regain it, but I find it’s hard to get other respectable suburban parents to be crazy or playful with me. Maybe that’s why old people are so nuts–they’ve given themselves permission to have a bit of fun. Nice memory!!

  12. In Belgium they give out May flowers to all the women and they also have Arbeidsfeest which is sort of like the American Labor Day only much more socialist. And all the shops close, which sort of sucks on a Thursday like this year.

  13. Would love to participate in flashback Friday — but being the total rookie I am — I’m not sure what to do to get started. Please advise. BTW, I came to you by way of my fiend at Prefers Her Fantasy Life.

  14. I love how much you know and how much you’ve done! What gifts!

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