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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Basic Biittner : May Day

Friday, May 1, 2009

A couple of years ago around this time of year, I asked readers if May Day was still celebrated in our elementary schools or in family homes, or anywhere, really. I don't recall receiving any answers, so I will pose the question again, as May 1 once again arrives.

Here is some May Day information I found on a "holiday" web site:

" It is a fact that May Day, which the children do enjoy with all vibes, 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 the 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 those ancient New Year rites performed throughout the world. And 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 in her honor that a five day celebration, called the Floralia, was held. The five day festival would start on April 28 and end on May 2. The Romans brought in the rituals of the Floralia festival to the British Isles. And 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 during the Puritans. Though, it was relived when the Puritans lost power in England, 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.

By the Middle Ages, every English village had its Maypole. The bringing in of the Maypole from the woods was a great occasion and was accompanied by much rejoicing and merrymaking. The Maypoles were of all sizes. And one village would vie with another to show who could produce the tallest Maypole. Maypoles were usually set up for the day in small towns, but in London and the larger towns they were erected permanently.

The Puritans frowned on May Day, so the day has never been celebrated with as much enthusiasm in the United States as in Great Britain. But the tradition of celebrating May Day by dancing and singing around a maypole, tied with colorful streamers or ribbons, survived as a part of the English tradition. The kids celebrate the day by moving back and forth around the pole with the the streamers, the choosing of a May queen, and hanging of May baskets on the doorknobs of folks -- all leftovers from the old European traditions."

Although I would be the first to admit that my memory isn't quite what it used to be, it seems to me that, when I was a kid, classmates would exchange "May baskets," containing candy and such, as well as sometimes, I think, also (handmade) May Day cards. It was kind of a neat, friendly holiday. So I ask again - Is May Day still celebrated in this country to some degree?

For your covenience, you may e-mail your responses to me at sports@ctimes.biz, or they can be 'snail mailed' to me at : Dan Whitney ; P.O. Box 1084; Cherokee, IA 51012.

I'm hoping to hear from some of you, and will report on your responses (anonymously, if that is your wish) in a future column. And, no, you don't have to include a May Basket with your response. Although ...

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner