Jack – and Jill – in the Green

A reveller in green looking a bit sheepish

Hastings went green on the Early May Bank Holiday as the grand procession took place on the last day of the town’s annual Jack in the Green festival. Historically held as a celebration of life and fertility to mark the start of summer, the pageant brought a wonderful collection of people in exotic green-based costumes to the town. Some people were dressed as wild animals and some were draped in foliage to look like trees that were once held to have fertility-giving properties and on which the festival is based. The Hastings Jack in the Green website gives details of how this celebration and the start of summer is a continuation of Roman festivals dedicated to the goddess Flora when folk would decorate the original maypole trees with ribbons and flowers.

A giant Jill stands out from the greenies
A giant Jill stands out from the greenies

Later, in the 16th and 17th centuries, people competed with each other to create bigger and better floral garlands. In particular chimney sweeps made huge garlands covering their entire body which became the focus of the Jack in the Green festival. Today the festival is more a celebration of creativity, merriment and music and the grand procession is a great spectacle to watch and to cheer.

The procession was led by a dramatically attired Jack, attended by several Jills and other characters in exotic costumes, and followed by a variety of Morris dancers, giant effigies, drummers and various performing bands.

As the pageant wound through Hastings Old Town many of those dining al fresco cheered on the colourful group of marchers. The streets were lined with onlookers clapping and making merry as revellers spilled out of the local pubs. Many of the watching crowd joined in the festivities wearing a variety of cleverly crafted outfits that ranged from the glamorous to the outlandish, and sporting elaborate headwear and clever floral arrangements.

Love my collar: a well turned out dog watches the parade
Collarful: a well dressed dog at the parade

Some dog owners even got their pets in on the act by dressing them in leafy collars. The procession is a fitting end to the Jack in the Green festival and the organisers should be congratulated for making this celebration such an enjoyable event for visitors and for the local community.

For more information about Jack in the Green visit the Hastings website

Photos: Genevieve Barulis