On Christmas Day, we put gifts underneath a pine tree, hang socks above the fireplace, kiss under weeds hanging on the ceiling, eat a lot of candy, leave cookies and milk out for Santa and perhaps, in some circumstances, might even sing happy birthday to Jesus. Now that I think about it, that sounds a bit odd. And actually, the more I think about it, the more I wonder why we don’t celebrate May Day as a nation. I mean, it’s not all that different from Christmas. Well…it’s a holiday with pagan origins. I guess that’s about where the similarities end.
The day has roots in celebrating fertility (ancient Egypt), remembering political/social victories (U.S. and U.K.), engaging in sexual activity (Germany), warding against witchcraft (Germany), and commemorating the beginning of spring (England). During the festival in England, at the break of dawn on May 1, villagers would go out into the forest and gather flowers and wood for the day’s celebration. The largest piece of wood brought back would be used as the Maypole. This gathering of flowers and wood is calling “bringing in the may.” Geoffrey Chaucer is attributed with the poem Court of Love, written in 1561. The following excerpt is a glance into the Mayday Festival. (It’s in old English…but you’ll do fine.)
And furth goth all the Court, both most and lest,
To feche the floures fressh, and braunche and blome;
And namly, hawthorn brought both page and grome.
With fressh garlandes, partie blewe and whyte,
And thaim rejoysen in their greet delyt.
I’m sure somebody will be able to put a Christian spin on this, right?
The Maypole, in England, in all its glory.