Jack in the Green means it all gets a bit mad on May Day in Hastings. If you head down to the Old Town you’ll more than likely go home with a green nose. Jack in the Green, a festival of fun, frolics and foliage, celebrates the releasing of summer. The Green Man festival, Hastings is a popular Sussex event and takes place over a four day period over the first weekend in May and culminates in a bizarre procession through the town on Bank Holiday Monday.
Jack in the Green, Hastings
Jack in the Green Story
A traditional May Day character symbolising winter, Jack, is at the heart of the green man festivities and leads the procession through the narrow lanes of Hastings Old Town. The custom originally started as part of English May Day celebrations with townsfolk creating Jack’s garland of flowers and leaves. The garland gradually became more and more elaborate until ultimately he was covered from head to foot in foliage. Green Jack then became known as Jack in the Green. The custom died out in the early 1900s. The bawdy displays were frowned upon and Jack replaced with the demure Queen of the May. Some believe Jack goes back further and has more pagan connections.
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In Hastings, however, Jack is back – and with a vengeance! Hastings Jack in the Green festival was revived in 1983 and is now one the most popular events on the local calendar. The green man parade kicks off with ‘the Gathering’ by the tall black fishermen’s huts in The Stade in Hastings Old Town. It’s here that ‘the greening’ begins. Jack’s attendants, aka the green Bogies, bedecked in green rags and foliage start their drumming and the crowd cheers as Jack, a towering vision of vegetation with crown atop, is released into the town.
The Green Bogies
Part man, part bush and big part alcohol the Green Bogie is Jack’s friend and minder – there are twelve in total. The Green Bogies, along with Black Sal, Jack’s consort, accompany Jack through the town up to Hastings Castle. If they spot anyone on the way who isn’t green enough they’ll soon sort it with a dab of green face-paint to the nose or, if you’re not so lucky, a face full. Try not to catch their eye…
Hastings Jack in the Green
Sussex Morris Sides
The procession consists of Mad Jack’s Morris a local Morris side responsible for the revival of the current festival. Behind them the Sweeps, brushes held aloft are followed by Hannah’s Cat Morris, a women’s side, dressed in purple and pink, who dance and flick their handkerchiefs as they go. The Lovely Ladies and Gay Bogies are all dressed to impress and have some of the more elaborate costumes – a hat topped with a stuffed raven, a stag head dress and every shade of green. Some are quite folksy others more neo-pagan and slightly Goth. Various Morris Sides jingle along, clacking their sticks whilst musicians and drummers make up the rest of the parade.
The Hastings Giants
Following up the rear are the towering Mollies or Giants made from papier Mache and standing around 12 feet tall. Each one represents a local town; the form of the giant depends on the town’s history and traits.
The day dawns bright and sunny and the crowds jostle, keen to get a good view. Many are dressed in green, some with garlands in their hair others, like me, with green noses. Yes, the Bogies got me. All the while music fills the air, infectious rhythms and beats weaving their magic through the crowds. The sunshine adds to the atmosphere together with anticipation of the summer after a long, dark winter. Oh, and the pubs open early.
The quirky procession makes its way through the town and up the steep hill to the castle, with more than a few refreshment stops on the way. As Jack arrives at the castle “Twiggy”, aka a bundle of twigs, is hoisted to the top of the flagpole while the procession is drummed in by the Bogies.
More places to visit in Sussex * A Sussex Walk – Seven Sisters Country Park * A weekend break in Rye, East Sussex * Eastbourne Trails and Coastal Walks * Battles and Bonfires in 1066 Country * Rathfinny Wine Estate – Home of Sussex Sparkling
Sussex Morris Dancers
At this point the Morris Sides take to the stage for a dance-off so each can showcase their signature dance. The food stalls sell tasty snacks; a craft fair offers home-made goods and, of course, there’s the obligatory beer tent. When the dance-off ends the Green Bogies march Green Jack down to the stage, their drumming becoming louder and more frenzied. Finally, poor Jack, the symbol of winter, is slain by Mad Jack’s Morris Men, and the spirit of summer is released so we can look forward to the good weather to come. Well we can live in hope…
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Jack in the Green, Hastings, 2019
Hastings Jack in the Green 2019 runs over a four day period beginning on Friday 03 May 2019 and ends on Bank Holiday Monday 06 May (May Day). Hastings also hosts thousands of bikers from the May Day run on 06 May. The event involves thousands of motorbikes and scooters taking a 55-mile (89 km) trip on the A21 road from Locksbottom to Hastings seafront which coincides with the Jack-in-the-Green festival. May Day in Hastings is quite an event!
For Hastings Jack in the Green 2019 timetable and programme of events check the website for Hastings Jack in the Green (HITG).
Read more: What to see and do in Hastings old town
Suzanne Jones is creator, writer and photographer at The Travelbunny. When she’s not indulging her wanderlust you’ll most likely find her enjoying coastal walks in her home county of East Sussex, UK.
Suzanne co-writes Sussex Bloggers which showcases the best of East & West Sussex.