MAY DAY (1 MAY)

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MAY DAY (1 MAY)

 

 

In honor of May Day, I have found many different traditions around the globe and I have shared many here.   I remember in elementary school, we had a May Pole celebration and other activities.

May Day on May 1 is an ancient Northern Hemisphere spring festival and usually a public holiday; it is also a traditional spring holiday in many cultures. May Day coincides with International Workers’ Day, and in many countries that celebrate the latter, it may be referred to as “May Day”.

May Day is related to the Celtic festival of Beltane and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night.  May Day falls half a year from November 1 – another cross-quarter day which is also associated with various northern European paganisms and the year in the Northern Hemisphere – and it has traditionally been an occasion for popular and often raucous celebrations.    The only significant Christianization of May Day is essentially localized to Germany where it is one of many historic days that were used to celebrate St. Walburga (the saint credited with bringing Christianity to Germany).

The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times, with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers.  May Day may be best known for its tradition of dancing the maypole dance and crowning of the Queen of May.  Various Neopagan groups celebrate reconstructed (to varying degrees) versions of these customs on May 1.  The day was a traditional summer holiday in many pre-Christian European pagan cultures. While February 1 was the first day of Spring, May 1 was the first day of summer, hence, the summer solstice on June 25 was mid-summer.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, May is observed as Mary’s month, and in these circles May Day is usually a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  In this connection, in works of art, school skits, and so forth, Mary’s head will often be adorned with flowers in a May crowning.

May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries. May Day is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility (of the soil, livestock, and people) and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings. Since the reform of the Catholic calendar, May 1 is the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the patron saint of workers. Seeding has been completed by this date and it was convenient to give farm laborers a day off. Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the maypole, around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons.

The May Day bank holiday, on the first Monday in May, was traditionally the only one to affect the state school calendar.   The Spring Bank Holiday on the first Monday in May was created in 1978; May Day itself – May 1 – is not a public holiday in England (unless it falls on a Monday). In February 2011, the UK Parliament was reported to be considering scrapping the bank holiday associated with May Day, replacing it with a bank holiday in October, possibly coinciding with Trafalgar Day (celebrated on October 21), to create a “United Kingdom Day”.  Many cities and towns and counties in England have various May Day traditions going back centuries.

Finland – May Day is known as Vappu. This is a public holiday that is the only carnival-style street festivity in the country. People young and old, particularly students, party outside, picnic and wear caps or other decorative clothing.      Some Finns make a special lemonade from lemons, brown sugar, and yeast called “sima”.  It contains very little alcohol, so even children can drink it. A similar product can also be bought in all stores. Some Finns also make doughnuts and a crisp pastry fried in oil made from a similar, more liquid dough.

Balloons and other decorations like paper streamers are seen everywhere.

On May 1, 1561, King Charles IX of France received a lily of the valley as a lucky charm.  At the beginning of the 20th century, it became custom to give a sprig of lily of the valley, a symbol of springtime, on May 1. The government permits individuals and workers’ organizations to sell them tax-free. Nowadays, people may present loved ones either with bunches of lily of the valley or dog rose flowers.

In rural regions of Germany, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of a maypole). Young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto:  “Dance into May!.  In the Rhineland, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a maypole, a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. Females usually place roses or rice in form of a heart at the house of their beloved one. It is common to stick the heart to a window or place it in front of the doormat.  In leap years, it is the responsibility of the females to place the maypole.

May Day was not established as a public holiday until 1933. As Labour Day, many political parties and unions host activities related to work and employment.

May Day has been celebrated in Ireland since pagan times as the feast of Bealtaine and in latter times as Mary’s day. Traditionally, bonfires were lit to mark the coming of summer and to banish the long nights of winter. Officially Irish May Day holiday is the first Monday in May. Old traditions such as bonfires are no longer widely observed, though the practice still persists in some places across the country. Limerick, Clare and many other people in other counties still keep on this tradition such as the town of Arklow in Co. Wicklow.

On May Day, Bulgarians celebrate Irminden (or Yeremiya, Eremiya, Irima, Zamski den). The holiday is associated with snakes and lizards and rituals are made in order to protect people from them. The name of the holiday comes from the prophet Jeremiah, but its origins are most probably pagan.

It is said that on the days of the Holy Forty or Annunciation snakes come out of their burrows, and on Irminden their king comes out. Old people believe that those working in the fields on this day will be bitten by a snake in summer.   In Western Bulgaria people light fires, jump over them and make noises to scare snakes. Another custom is to prepare “podnici” (special clay pots made for baking bread).   This day is especially observed by pregnant women so that their offspring do not catch “yeremiya” – an illness due to evil powers.

On May Day, the Romanians celebrate the arminden, the beginning of summer, symbolically tied with the protection of crops and farm animals.  The day is also called mugwort day or drunkards’ day and it is celebrated to insure good wine in autumn and, for people and farm animals’ alike, good health and protection from the elements of nature (storms, hail, illness, and pests). People would have parties in the nature with fiddlers, for those who could afford it. There, it is customary to roast and eat lamb, also eat new mutton cheese and drink mugwort-flavoured wine or just red wine to refresh the blood and get protection from diseases. On the way back, the men wear lilac or mugwort flowers on their hats.       Other  rites include, in some areas of the country, people washing their faces with the morning dew (for good health) and adorning the gates for good luck and abundance with green branches or with birch saplings (for the houses with maiden girls). The entries to the animals’ shelters are also adorned with green branches. All branches are left in place until the wheat harvest when they are used in the fire which will bake the first bread from the new wheat.

On May Day eve, country women do not work in the field as well as in the house to avoid devastating storms and hail coming down on the village.       Arminden is also oxen day and the animals are not to be used for work, or else they could die or their owners could get ill.

It is said that the weather is always good on May Day to allow people to celebrate.

Sweden – The more traditional festivities have moved to the day before, Walpurgis Night known in some locales as simply “Last of April”.

May Day is celebrated in some parts of the Province of British Columbia. Celebrations often take place not on May 1 but during the Victoria Day long weekend, later in the month and when the weather is likely to be better. The honor of having the longest continually observed May Day in the British Commonwealth – since 1870 – is claimed by the BC city of New Westminster.

May Day was also celebrated by some early European settlers of the American continent. In some parts of the United States, May Baskets are made. These are small baskets usually filled with flowers or treats and left at someone’s doorstep. The giver rings the bell and runs away. The person receiving the basket tries to catch the fleeing giver; if caught, a kiss is exchanged.

In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day, and it is normally set aside as a day to celebrate island culture in general and the culture of the Native Hawaiians in particular. The first official Lei Day was proposed in 1927 in Honolulu by poet and artist Don Blanding.  Leonard “Red” and Ruth Hawk composed “May Day is Lei Day in Hawai’i”, the traditional holiday song. Originally it was a contemporary fox trot, later rearranged as the Hawaiian hula song performed today.

Kathy Kiefer

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