My May Day Memories


               I always loved May Day when I was a little girl.  My sister Susan and I made baskets of colored construction paper and glue.  Then we went out and picked flowers to put into them and rushed to our neighbor's homes to place a basket at the door.  We would then ring the doorbell or knock loudly on the door and run to hide in the yard to see who opened the door to find our gift.  Mostly we picked the lovely wild purple violets that nestled in the grass of our lawn.  But we sometimes added a few dandelions.  My favorite (after the violets) to place in the baskets was the lovely white spirea from the fountain like old fashioned bushes in our side yard.  They had been there from the first year that Mama & Daddy moved into the house when I was only a few years old.  The 'starts' for those lush bushes had come from Grandma and Grandpa's house in Stewartsville Missouri, 70 miles north of us in Kansas City.  The fronds were covered with clusters of tiny petaled white flowers.  So just a couple of shoots would nicely fill our small baskets.  Besides looking very pretty in the pastel pink and blue or yellow and sage green baskets.

               I can almost smell the spirea this minute.  They have a sort of peppery, slightly earthy fragrance.  Kind of clean and sharp.  There is still a bush at the side of my daughter's house.  I think I need to go over there and sniff while they are blooming.  Maybe I'll take a paper cone basket with me and snip a few sprigs while I'm there.



               So when our own two darling girls were little, I told them the story of May Baskets and taught them to carry on the tradition of delivering May Baskets to others.  And they loved the tradition as much as I had done.  They put together darling little baskets, sometimes decorated with crayon or color marker borders or drawings and filled them with flowers, including beautiful sprigs of spirea.  A fitting way to carry on with a charming custom to deliver May baskets to our neighbors Ginny and to Peggy and Ernie, who they loved very much.



May Day ..... Past and Present


               Ancient May 1st Celebrations were centered around pagan themes to celebrate the end of winter darkness in the Northern hemisphere.  The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times, with the festival of Flora, the Roman Goddess of flowers,   May 1st was the time of the Celtic festival of Beltane as well as the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night.  May 1st is what is known as a cross - quarter day since it falls exactly a half year from November 1st and the neopagan festival of Samhain.   The day was a traditional summer holiday in many pre-Christian European pagan cultures. Many pagan celebrations were abandoned or Christianized during the process of religious conversion in Europe.

               A more secular version of May Day continues to be observed in Europe and America to the present day. In this form, May Day may be best known for its tradition of dancing the Maypole and crowning of the Queen of the May.        

               In times past, many Catholic schools in the United States had lovely May Day Celebrations.   They were most closely tied into the celebrations of the Virgin Mary, as May is Mary's month within the church.  Children would crown one girl to be the May Queen.  Chains of clover or daisies would be fashioned.   Children would dance around a May Pole weaving colored ribbons as they ducked under each other's arms.  I have read of the celebrations and heard stories from those adults who were children over 50 or 60 years ago.  It seems that now days most schools are busy with other less frivolous pastimes.  Although May is still  Mary's month in the Catholic Church.

               There is an especially interesting tradition that continues in the present day in Hawaii.   There, May Day is also known as Lei Day, and is normally set aside as a day to celebrate island culture in general and native Hawaiian culture in particular. While it was invented by a poet and a local newspaper columnist in the 1920s, it has since been adopted by state and local government as well as by the residents, and has taken on a sense of general spring celebration there. The first Lei Day was proposed in 1927 in Honolulu. Leonard "Red" and Ruth Hawk composed "May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii," the traditional holiday song. Originally it was a contemporary fox trot, later rearranged as the Hawaiian hula song performed today.**



May Day as a Labor Celebration


               Other countries around the world have very, very different ideas of how to celebrate the First day of May.  The Labor/Workers movements observe May 1st as a commemoration of worker's rights known as International Workers Day or Labour Day.  Parades are quite common and are sometimes accompanied by speeches or other political demonstrations organized by unions or other activist groups.  At one time, the largest demonstrations were in certain communists countries such as the Soviet Union and might include thousands of marching military troups as well as hundreds of tanks and military vehicles that seemed to pass by for hours. 

               Countries that have May 1st Celebrations tied to Labor and/or Worker's Rights include:   China, India, Taiwan, Italy, Portugal, France, Germany, Sweden, Bangladesh, Turkey, Syria and Brazil -- and many more countries that I have not listed.   (In the United States we DO celebrate Labor Day but it is traditionally the first Monday of September of each year and is a National Holiday with many businesses closing and giving their employees the day off of work.)

               Modern May Day ceremonies in the U.S. vary greatly from region to region and many unite both the holiday's pagan and labor traditions.  Among the largest such celebrations is the May Day Parade and Pageant created by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, an event that has happened every year since 1975 in Minneapolis and now attracts some 35,000 people.**


**Information for this page was researched on wikipedia and several google sites.  The paragraph about Hawaii and the paragraph about the
May Day Parade and Pageant in Minneapolis was quoted verbatim from the wikipedia page.



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