Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day, and all of its meanings

Today, is May 1st, also known as May Day.

I'd always thought of May Day as being a Druid sort of festival, envisioning young people attired in diaphanous garb, skipping around a May Pole, in a typical spring-time setting.  I'm not quite sure where I got this idea... I've never worn diaphanous garb  (although I do like that word)... I've never seen a May Pole, nor do I know who typically sets them in place, and while I have been known to skip, I've never skipped with a group, in a circle.

While my notion is far from being right, it's not quite entirely wrong.  In fact, while May 1 is when we often start seeing real signs of spring, it's technically closer to the first day of astrological summer, than the first day of astrological spring...  but it did originate as a celebration-of-nature sort of thing, with lots of flowers, and skipping in the fields.  And it is associated with the Celtic festival of Beltane and is a celebration of springtime fertility... so in the beginning, there certainly would have been lots of dancing and skipping around.

Ahhh... for simpler times.

Over the years, May Day has changed.  In the United States, May Day, at one time, was also  known as International Workers' Day.  IWD was first celebrated to commemorate an 1886 incident in Chicago, Illinois, where police killed a number of demonstrators at an assembly for a union strike, pushing for an 8-hour day.  Interestingly enough, IWD is now a national holiday in over 80 countries -- although not the United States.   In the late 1950s, President Eisenhower proclaimed May 1st as Law Day... a day to reflect on the role of law in the foundation of this country.  It's not a government holiday, and for the most part, the only group who takes note of Law Day is lawyers...  lawyers will often volunteer in special educational programs at libraries or schools, to emphasize the importance of legal rights.

And while May Day is also known as Labor Day in many parts of the world ... an official holiday to celebrate workers, in the U.S. and Canada, Labor Day is celebrated in September.. as an official holiday to celebrate workers.

I'm not quite clear on how a pagan ritual, celebrating fertility and springtime, shifted to a recognition of civil rights and workers rights, and a society based on laws...   and I am saddened at the loss of an excuse to skip, and perhaps frolic.  So I suppose I shall have to skip, and celebrate spring on my own time.

But before I leave this topic and have another cup of tea, I want to give a nod to one more meaning for May Day... or technically, mayday.  Mayday is a special word, a word used internationally, to signal an emergency.  In most languages, mayday translates as mayday.  It comes from the French phrase for 'come help me'.  I have been in a situation where it was necessary to send out a mayday signal, and rest assured that it was not a happy or carefree situation.    I know that not all mayday distress calls have a happy ending, but -- at least that time -- the outcome was wonderful, and everyone was safe and sound at the end of the day.  So - for me - even this meaning of mayday leaves me with happy thoughts, and makes me want to skip, and frolic and celebrate...   celebrate life.  Which brings me back to spring.

I think I'll return to simpler times.  In 'Laurie's world', May Day, or mayday, shall henceforth be known as a time to look around and appreciate nature.. a time to enjoy the budding trees, the flowers in bloom, the increase in hours of sunshine, the anticipation of summer.  It shall be a time to skip, and frolic, and celebrate life.  And if you want to have a cup of tea as you celebrate, well that's always good, too.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your post today!! It does make me want to find something diaphanous to wear, however! I agree that it is a very good word!