Bringing in the May

by brenda maas

While April showers bring May flowers, the April calendar also brings May 1st—May Day. Although Americans do not herald this long-held holiday like many other countries, it does have an interesting history and may be especially fun for young children.

Like many holidays, May Day originates, in most cultures, from the time Before Christ (B.C.). Many experts believe it celebrated ancient agricultural and fertility rites. The Romans honored Flora, the goddess of fertility, flowers and spring with a multi-day festival.

The Celts lit bonfires on Beltane, the half-point of their year and what became their May Day. It was thought that the fire itself gave life to the burgeoning springtime sun and thus, would help the sun become warm and powerful again. Driving cattle through the fire’s smoke for purification or walking through with a sweetheart was thought to bring good luck in the coming year.

Going A-Maying

In medieval England, many welcomed the beginning of spring by “going a-maying” or “bringing in the may” by gathering greenery and flowers from the fields and woods to decorate their homes and churches. This evolved into an elaborate festival in which a Queen and (sometimes) King of May were crowned. Young adults and children carried streamers and danced around a maypole—a tree or post decorated with festive ribbons and greenery. It was truly a joyous holiday with great rejoicing, dancing, singing and merry-making.

Some cultures, especially Scandinavian and Germanic, emphasized the fertility and re-birth aspect by having a young man “plant” a decorated tree or maypole outside the home of the girl he wished to marry on May Day’s Eve (the night before the first of May).

Once the Puritans came into fashion, many May Day celebrations were considered pagan and therefore shunned. Perhaps the Puritan influence is why May Day is more popular in Europe than in the Puritan-colonized New World (U.S.).

Ironically, May Day and its preceding eve, are exactly opposite of another historical and religious-steeped holiday: Halloween and All Saints Day.

In Holland, the Dutch May Day celebrate with tulip festivals. The Danes give each other delicate spring flower bouquets, such as lily of the valley, to herald the holiday. And, in Hawaii friends share favorite flower necklaces on Lei Day—their personalized May Day—often with a friendly kiss on the cheek.

May Day = Labor Day

In many countries May Day is also considered Labor (Labour) Day. It honors International Workers’ Day, which celebrates world-wide social and economic achievements of the labor movement, most notably the eight-hour work day.

Regardless, May Day is still universally considered the unofficial start of spring and most May Day celebrations center on flowers and re-birth—a truly happy holiday and reason to celebrate after the long, dark days of winter fade.

Even though May Day Celebrations are relatively nonexistent in our area, as May Day approaches here is a great craft activity. Children will be excited to celebrate Spring and even better yet, this activity gives them the role of giving without the expectation of receiving.

May Basket

Items Needed:

colored plastic cup

pipe cleaner

paper punch

“spring” stickers

goodies to put in basket such as

small candies, stickers, flowers

and notes of well-wishes

1. Punch 2 holes—opposite of each other—just over rim of cup.

This is the “adult” part because you will need some muscle.

The cup becomes your “basket.”

2. Have Child make a “handle” on the cup by putting pipe cleaner through the holes and twisting tight.

3. Ask Child to decorate “basket” with stickers and markers

(washables will not work).

4. Add goodies & notes to the “basket.”

5. On May Day, go to homes of neighbors, family and special

friends and “secretly” leave the May Day Basket on their

doorknob or step—kids will love to “ding-dong-ditch!”

Happy May Day! SFM

Brenda Maas, a transplant from Wisconsin, has been writing since she covered her high school basketball team for the local paper. She and her husband Brett sent the youngest of their three boys off to kindergarten this fall.