|May Day at Pottsgrove Manor, 2008. Photo by me on a lousy flip phone|
Oddly enough for those who know me, I'm not referring to reviving International Worker's Day in the United States; that's already become sort of a thing, between union activists and immigrant rights groups. No, I'm talking about the older May Day.
So I was on a trip through Europe in 2005, and while riding through Austria, saw maypoles throughout all these small villages. I was surprised to see them, but more surprised that they were apparently permanent fixtures (though the ribbons had come down, as far as I could tell from my seat on a bus, whizzing by at 75 miles an hour). My mom told me that apparently her mother's town in upstate Pennsylvania used to have a maypole; but this goes back to the 1910s and 1920s, and I doubt they still do. But still, the apparently celebrated May Day up into the twentieth century in rural PA.
OK, so what?
I want to bring it back.
I like holidays; I think we need more of them.Now, I know what you're saying--what the hell is May Day? And do I have to dance around a giant pole? As to the second, you don't have to, but it's fun to do so.
As to the first question, here's the deal: May Day used to be the start of summer. The Irish called it Beltane, and had a number of stories about supernatural events happening on the night before: it was one of the nights the sídhe (fairies) were out and about. Lots of stories about Fionn mac Cumhaill take place at Beltane; and it's the counterpart of Samhain, which we know as Halloween. Samhain is the start of winter; Beltane is the start of summer. Samhain settles up accounts, makes sure the harvest is in; Beltane is about planting, about making sure the crops are fertile. Samhain is about the dead; Beltane is about life.
The Germanic, Nordic, and Slavic/Baltic countries have Walpurgisnacht; they burn bonfires, and like the Celts, held that this began the summer. This, of course, is why the summer solstice is "Midsummer"--it falls in the middle between the old reckoning of summer's beginning at May 1st, and fall's beginning at August 1st. Also like the Celts, it was a night of magic and danger, when "witches" were burned on bonfires in order to celebrate the return of the summer.
The Romans had their own holiday, Flora, celebrating the goddess of flowers; no doubt this gave way to the Catholic idea of the May Procession, wherein the flower goddess is replaced by a statue of the Virgin Mary covered with a flower garland; we celebrated this when I was a kid in Catholic school.
OK, so it's a day for bonfires and dancing around a maypole, the first is cool, the second is for SCA geeks, right? Well, yeah, but there's also the May Queen, a kind of Miss America for the holiday. And Jack-in-the-green, a guy who dresses up like a tree. And plays about Robin Hood and King Arthur. And staying up all night before with your friends and collecting the new greenery to give away as "may baskets". And dancing, and singing and...
Did I mention the sex?
Oh yeah, see, May Day is also about sex.
I mean, you're dancing around a phallus because everything's gone green again. And there's a beauty queen. And you stay up all night, hanging out at the bonfire, or in the woods. With your significant other.
Come on, people, it's kind of a no-brainer.