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Oxford's famous May Morning returns, but where did it come from?

Photo: ITV

Thousands of people gathered in Oxford before dawn this morning to welcome in the start of May.

The tradition that dates back hundreds of years and some people even stayed up all night to see the sun rise over the dreaming spires.

  • Watch this report by Mary Stanley:

Throughout the early hours of May 1st, Oxford's streets were filled with people as 13,500 students, tourists and residents flocked together for the city's annual May Morning celebrations.

They form part of the May Day celebrations, marking the beginning of spring.

But where did this tradition start and why is it unique to Oxford?

Where did it all come from?

The first May Morning celebrations are believed to have happened around 500 years ago to mark the completion of Magdalen Tower and the start of spring.

May Morning forms part of May Day which comes from Pagan traditions. The first May Day celebrations are thought to date back to Roman times when young people would celebrate spring's arrival with a day of dancing dedicated to the goddess Flora.

May 1st is celebrated in lots of other countries, for example, in Hawaii it is called 'Lei Day' and the date also coincides with International Workers' Day celebrations.

Performances take place on the streets in Oxford every May 1. Credit: ITV

What happens in Oxford?

May Morning starts at 6am although many people start their celebrations the previous evening, partying through the night and into the morning.

At 6am, the Magdalen College Choir sing Hymnus Eucharisticus from the top of Magdalen Tower. The hymn was composed by a former student of the college, Benjamin Rogers.

The tower's bells then ring for about 20 minutes.

The crowd falls silent to listen to the choir and bells. Credit: ITV

Pubs and cafes open early to provide breakfast for the early morning revellers and there's music and dancing performances in the street.

Credit: ITV

Some students used to jump from Magdalen Bridge but the tradition is now banned because of previous incidents resulting in people being injured. In 1997 one person was left paralysed and in 2005 ten were hospitalised from jumping off the bridge.

People are no longer allowed to jump from Magdalen Bridge because of the shallow water beneath. Credit: ITV