Saturday, May 01, 2010

Happy May Day!

I found this short history of May Day on The Holiday Spot, which encourages its use. I've edited and re-written parts of it because, quite frankly, the writing is not very good.

May Day is not an overly prominent holiday in America. Yet it does have a long and notable history as one of the world's principal festivals. The origin of May Day as a day for celebration dates back to the days before the birth of Christ. And like many ancient festivals it too has a Pagan connection.

For the Druids of the British Isles, May 1 was the second most important holiday of the year because it was when the festival of Beltane was held. It was thought that the day divides the year into half. The other half was to be ended with the Samhain on November 1. In those days the May Day custom was the setting of new fire. It was one of the ancient New Year rites performed throughout the world. The fire itself was thought to lend life to the burgeoning springtime sun. Cattle were driven through the fire to purify them. Men, with their sweethearts, passed through the smoke for seeing good luck.

Then the Romans came to occupy the British Isles. The beginning of May was a very popular feast time for the Romans. It was devoted primarily to the worship of Flora, the goddess of flowers. It was a five day celebration in her honor, called the Floralia. The festival would start on April 28 and end on May 2. Gradually the rituals of the Floralia were added to those of the Beltane, and many of today's customs on May Day bear a stark similarity with those combined traditions.

May day observance was discouraged by the Puritans. It was revived when the Puritans lost power in England, but it didn't have the same robust force. Gradually, it came to be regarded more as a day of joy and merriment for the kids, rather than a day of observing the ancient fertility rights.

If anyone needs me today, I'll be in the back yard running the cattle through the char broiler and then I may engage in some fertility rites—either with or without Martha, depending on whether or not she has a headache.

Oh, just a bit more history. The Puritans in America are now called Republicans.


Kevin Musgrove said...

You can't move for foolishness and pigs' bladders this side of the pond.

The elections will soon be over...

Unknown Mami said...

My husband has always told me that they celebrated May Day in Hawaii, but he could never tell me what it was about.

Charlie said...

KEVIN: Ah, then you'll have time for maypoles and buskers.

MAMI: They do celebrate it in Hawaii by giving out leis and a kiss—pretty much what Beltane and Floralia were about.

Pat said...

As kids we had a decorated Maypole and were allowed to go all round the neighbourhood dancing round it in our best dresses.
I remember May Day during the cold war when the Russians paraded all their tanks and weaponry with marching soldiers. It didn't seem very joyous compare with the Maypole.

Fay's Too said...

I'm laughing out loud. Happy Beltane to ye.

TechnoBabe said...

If it is nice and fun and for families it was discouraged by the Puritans? Happy May Day whether Martha participates in the fertility rites or not.

Robert the Skeptic said...

In grade school we made little May Poles out of pencils and ribbon. When I brought it home, my Mom freaked out informing me that May Day was a Communist holiday and drew my attention to the TV where the Ruskies were parading their missiles through Red Square.

Goldwater Republicans they were (which probably explains my Disinheritance). Fertility rites never entered into it.

Jimmy Bastard said...

May Day... traditionally a day here when people speak to their neighbours for the first time since being snowed in at Christmas.

Kate said...

Over here it's now synonymous with the labour and union movement. There used to be galas for miners, factory workers and so on, but they've fallen by the wayside ... probably because we don't have many miners, etc anymore.

Technobabe - The Puritans banned it because they didn't approve of dancing, and also because the maypole is a phallic symbol ... apparently they didn't approve of those either lol

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I completely forgot to do any pole dancing on May Day! Now the tooth fairy won't know which house to come to. Or something like that.

Charlie said...

PAT: It appears the Russians had a sense of humor similar to the Puritans: None.

May Day used to be about the celebration of Spring and new life. Another tradition gone by the wayside, I'm afraid.

FAY: And a good Floralia to you. (I just got over a bout of floralia, BTW.)

BABE: The Puritans were religious nuts and got kicked out of England. They arrived here on the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock near Boston, and they had a great influence on the formation of the U.S. (except for Thomas Jefferson, who insisted on the separation of Church and State).

Charlie said...

ROBERT: We had a real Maypole at Catholic school, which was used to honor the Virgin Mary. I see very little connection between the Virgin Mother and Mother Earth, but what the hell do I know.

I'm very sorry that you were disinherited. Need five bucks?

JIMMY: You're a lucky man. At least the neighbors in Glasgow talk to each other, unlike here.

KATE: Isn't it amazing how an ancient tradition gets bastardized?

As far as the Puritans go, the phallus was used solely for procreation and not recreation. Bummer.

BARB: No pole dancing yesterday? You must have given up your job at the tittie bar.

CanuckFan said...

Ah, Beltane! I love it! I couldn't light any fires, but I did light some candles and incense and do a tarot card reading, so I at least did something to mark the day.

Kim Ayres said...

These days the "May Day Protests" are becoming more of an embedded tradition

Tiffin said...

A bit late but joyous Beltane to you too, Charlie.

Charlie said...

CANUCK FAN: I know a lot of Canucks, as many as six or seven, but I cannot place you. Nevertheless, thank you for stopping by.

I like how you celebrated Beltane, but IMO I wouldn't put too much faith in Tarot readings. A gypsy once told me I would be handsome, rich, and famous, and I'm still waiting.

KIM: As the other folks from the U.K. have told me, May Day has lost its traditional meaning, so therefore it is no longer a tradition.

TUI: A joyous Beltane to you too, and may your garden be the most beautiful ever.

Buzzard said...

What a great post and comment response.

I like May 1st because it's my brother's birthday. I remember plainly that part of his celebration one time, was going to watch a few pole dancers. Ahhh, the good old days!!