A different look at May

2017-05-24 06:02

IN most parts of the world 1 May is celebrated as Worker’s Day, but it actually is traditionally the last of the series of rites celebrating the arrival of spring in the northern hemisphere.
In medieval England on this day it was customary to “go a-Maying” to pick hawthorn blossoms to decorate houses, and the prettiest girl in the village was crowned Queen of the May.
The most well-known symbol of May Day (1 May) is the maypole. The custom of dancing around the maypole is an ancient fertility rite, which is still performed today on village greens and at spring fêtes.
The origins of the maypole go back to ancient times when tree spirits were worshipped and the first maypoles were tall slender trees, usually birch, which had their branches lopped off, leaving just a few at the top to be adorned with garlands and blossom.
The maypole was regarded as sexually symbolic and with all the immoral revelry that went along with it was abolished by the Puritans when they came to power following the Civil War of the 1640s.
When the British monarchy was restored in 1660 the maypole returned, but mainly in rural villages and county towns.
By the mid-19th century maypole dancing was in serious decline. The tightly knit village communities, which had supported it for so long, were fading under the impact of railways, improved roads and the growth of industrialisation.
The writer John Ruskin was among those who looked to the old customs and revitalised maypole dancing.
However, instead of the drunken revelry of the old days, there was a new Christian and family focus. These children were trained to carry out a sequence of complicated steps which wove the ribbons downwards from the top of the maypole into fantastic shapes and designs and then loose again as they retract their steps.

In the northern hemisphere some other happy May Day traditions to mark the return of spring are:

• baskets of flowers on neighbour’s doorsteps or doorknobs;

• beekeepers will move bees on May 1st;

• on May Day morning, if a maiden gathers dew before sunup and sprinkles her face with it, she will enjoy luck and youthful beauty for the rest of the year;

farmers often plant corn, cucumbers and turnips on this day;

• on 1 May people in Britain welcome spring by “bringing in the May,” or gathering cuttings of flowering trees for their homes; and

• May 1 in Hawaii is called “Lei Day” and people will receive prizes this day for wearing the prettiest handmade leis (garlands). 

 

 

 

 

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