Monday, May 2, 2011
Celebrating May Day Through the Years
Spring officially arrives in April, but it seems it is not until May that we can really celebrate warm weather, blossoms on trees and flowers sprouting through the ground and the greenest grass of the year. We enjoy May after long winter months indoors.
In the States, we celebrate May with Renaissance Faires, Mayfest celebrations and even school children have plays, parades and Maypoles and anything that will take us outside to enjoy the warmer spring weather.
There are many interpretations of the first MayDay, and many different theories and origins, all with the same principle ~ people through the years loved to celebrate the coming of spring on the first day of May!
The celebration of May Day is documented as early as 1628 in the US, when Govenor William Bradford of Plymouth documented indentured servants created their own colony and set up a pole in the middle of their settlement and danced around it.
Another possibility is that it was celebrated by the Druids because it brought the Beltane festival and the observation of pagan fertility rites. May 1 was seen as the beginning of a new year, and fires were lit as part of the celebration and was the second most important holiday of the year.
Maypole dancing evolved into Ribbon dancing around the maypole in the 18th century, and is possibly derived from traditional and 'art' dance forms popular in Italy and France.
In old Eurpoean villages, the youth would go into the woods and cut down a tree, removing the branches and covering it with violets. At daybreak they blew horns and celebrated and the towns would know May Day had arrived.
By the Middle ages, English villages had a May Pole, and everyone ~ from adults to children would all go into the woods to select the tree, making it a parade and singing songs as they went back to town. Often large cities like London would leave the maypole up for an entire year, so it was ready for the next years may day dance.
In Yorkshire, dancers gather in a circle, each holding a coloured ribbon attached to a much smaller pole. As the dance commences the ribbons are intertwined and braided either on to the pole itself or into a web around the pole. The dancers may then retrace their steps exactly in order to unravel the ribbons or leave them as a beautiful design on the pole.
Today MayDay and dancing around the May Pole are still traditions in many European Countries and the United Kingdom.
In the US there are still many ribbon and May pole dances but usually in elementary schools as part of a May Day celebration and are often part of a school presentation.
Hawaii celebrated May Day as Lei Day, in praise of the season of summer and celebrated in a very different from the MayPole, although they do have parades, pageants, and a Lei Queen.
The MayPole has evolved to MayFest celebration in the US with many cities celebrating the entire month of May instead of just one day or dance.
Enjoy your month of May, which ever way you choose to celebrate it!