The Jack in the Green Festival is a confirmed highlight of the eclectic and numerous festivals, celebrations and events in the Hastings cultural calendar. Thousands of people flock to the vibrant Old Town to witness the Grand Procession which winds its colourful and noisy way round All Saints Street, High Street, Croft Road, Collier Road, Priory Road, and ultimately to the ruined Hastings Castle on the West Hill. See the map of the Grand Procession here. It is happening again this year, as ever, on May Day (Monday, 4th May).
The Procession is predominantly green-clad, and includes many rhythmic and rousing drumming groups, several traditional Morris dance teams, towering ‘giant’ figures that are pushed through the streets and the undisputed stars of the show – Jack in the Green himself, and his attendant mischievous bogeys.
The ‘Jack’ is a jauntily dancing and twirling evergreen tree, who is at the heart of the parade, guarded by the bogeys – who enjoy putting a dot of green face-paint onto the end of onlookers noses! – he represents the spirit of Summer, and is ritually released by being ‘slain’ in the climax of proceedings up at the castle. Read more about the history of the Jack in the Green Festival here.
Last year, I watched the Grand Procession from the elevated vantage point of the raised pavement in High Street, and it was great fun to enjoy the amazing costumes that participants are wearing. Green is definitely the colour – reflecting the obvious links with nature and greenery – but the only limit to the costumes on show, was seemingly the imagination of the wearer! Beautifully ornate full-length gowns, meticulous facepaint and garlands of ivy and spring flowers, rubbed shoulders with fearsome Viking warriors and grubby chimney sweeps to name but a few…
It really is a rousing, good-natured event which reconnects us with our pagan heritage and is a hugely enjoyable celebration of Summer and the renewal and fertility of nature and life as whole.