Girls dancing around a pole, singing, dancing and wearing flowers in their hair. That’s May Day right? Or maybe images of workers marching in the streets in a show of solidarity or communist strength is your image? Probably most of us don’t make a connection to Christmas with May Day, but we should!
Traditionally in pre-christian Europe May 1st was recognized as the first day of summer. Pagan celebrations were held to signify the warmth and growth of the season. As Christianity adopted many pagan customs/festivals and transformed them into part of the liturgical calendar, so too with May Day. The Roman Catholic church in particular adopted May events and created a month focused on the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God. Since the 16th century May has been Mary’s month full of devotions, prayers, and ceremonies crowning Mary Queen of mothers. The ceremonies might be simple or elaborate and often involved the entire parish community. The common element would be the crowning of MAry with flowers. Usually a statue or sculpture of the virgin mother would be in a procession and end with all the girls bringing flowers to crown her. The oldest girl, or May Queen, would place the final crown of flowers on Mary’s head. Depending on the nature of the congregation, these ceremonies are large parties or solemn and focused meditations. I like the idea of the large, fun, community celebration for the mother of the baby Jesus! I’m not sure how my sister missed out on being part of these ceremonies growing up, or maybe I just thought it was part of one of her many dance recitals.
In reading about the celebrations for Mary in May I came across a tradition that I didn’t know about- May baskets. May baskets are small baskets full of gifts of sweets and flowers. These would be placed anonymously on a neighbor’s doorstep. Isn’t that a cool idea? I think Natalie and I might have a new project- May baskets!