It's an all too familiar scenario. There you are sleeping and comfortable, all snuggled in your bed while dreaming of wondrous and exotic visions, and....Suddenly your cellphone ringtones the latest Maroon five masterpiece, waking you crudely from your slumber.
It is, of course, your mother/aunt/sister/cousin. Again. Same as every year on this day. Sigh.
"It's time!" she says gleefully, "Go wash your face in the dew!"
You groan. You resist. But in the end, you drag yourself up, stumble out in the backyard, and wash your face in the crisp morning dew. It is, after all May Day, and who are you to break hundreds of years of tradition?
"But what IS May Day?" you ask, glaring into the burning pink/purple hues of the rising sun. "Where does it come from - and what's with that GIANT POLE?"
So glad you asked!
Well, here are a few things to ponder as your your face dries. It should be noted that May Day is somewhat elusive - some of the stories may be more legend than historical fact.
- May Day celebrations go back to pre-Christian Europe, particularly with the Celtic Beltane celebration and the Germanic Walpurgis-Night. Beltane marked the beginning of the Gaelic pastoral season, and involved dancing around fires, baking cakes and burning effigies.
- The maypole is possibly a phallic symbol originally associated with the worship of Germanic figures such a Freyr. However, a more likely association is with the Yggdrasil or "World Tree" linking various realms in Norse Mythology. To be sure, Germanic peoples had an affinity for giant trees such as Thor's Oak and massive carving decorations.
- In Sweden, the maypole is called "Midsommarstång," and usually appears as a cross with two rings hanging from the cross-beams. The pole is considered male, and the rings female. No symbolism to see here (wink), please move on.
- The May Queen, or the Goddess of Spring, is a symbol of the power of nature. It is unknown how long celebrations have been crowning a May Queen, but the tradition continues to this day in many parades and festivities.
- Common May Day celebrations today include the traditional as well as the new. Parades, pageants, and public dances have translated the ancient traditions into modern terms. At the high school May Day dances, kids may not get their "groove on" in exactly the same way, but in essence they are following a tradition many hundreds of years old. This is fun information to share with students, and is sure to get an enthusiastic response of "Like, whatever."
Now, wasn't that a bit of information you couldn't live without! Enjoy your May 1st Day!