May Day Memories

May Day Memories

Do you celebrate May Day? I think I may be one of the few Americans who has. Growing up in Virginia, we celebrated it every spring at our school, which went from preschool to second grade. It was the crowning event of the year. All of the children wore costumes, which our mothers sewed, and we all performed dances for the parents. Today I’m taking a trip down memory lane to a May Day from my youth.

Here I am in the costume my mother made me for the maypole dance. (I apologize for the photographs accompanying this blog post. Back in 1977, my father probably didn’t realize that I was going to use his slide pictures on the internet. Haha.)

 

I eagerly awaited being in first grade because the children in first and second grade got to dance around the maypole. I still remember being in awe of the older kids as they wove the ribbons in a pattern around the maypole.

You can see the maypole on the right side of the picture. The first and second grade students are in the process of forming a circle around it.

 

The boys would usually hold one color of ribbon and dance in one direction while the girls danced with a contrasting color of ribbon in another direction. After the dance, we all lined up to honor the May Queen and May King, who were chosen from among the second graders. They got to sit in seats of honor at the head of the festivities.

Sorry about the large head in the middle of this picture. It is the only photo I have of my classmates and me performing our dance.

 

It was probably because of the maypole dance that May Day was one of my favorite childhood holidays. On May Day, I would often gather flowers from our yard to take to our neighbors. I remember gathering tiny violets, placing them in the little green plastic baskets that strawberries came in, and then taking a basket to each neighbor. It was a wonderful feeling to usher in the warmer days of summer with all the beautiful flowers and greenery exploding around us.

These are some violets I found in my yard today.

 

We know from Jane Austen’s letters that the maypole was an important feature of the town where they lived. On November 9, 1800, Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra that their village maypole had been destroyed in a storm:

We have had a dreadful storm of wind in the forepart of this day . . . One large Elm out of two on the left hand side, as you enter what I call the Elm walk was likewise blown down, the Maypole bearing the weathercock was broke in two, and what I regret more than all the rest is that all three Elms which grew in Hall’s meadow and gave such ornament to it are gone.

May Day was evidently an important celebration for the Austens and their neighbors. How about you? Have you ever celebrated May Day?

12 Responses to May Day Memories

  1. Thanks for sharing. Love the violet. we are still ahving weird weather in our area, thus only wild flowers are surviving..

    Since we celebrate Mother’s day, the country is also big in the rosary for Mama Mary (you can tell I am raised Catholic). Lots of procession and feast days.

  2. My school had a May procession but sadly no Maypole; I have seen it and always thought it was a lovely tradition.

  3. When I was 11 years old my family moved to a town in northern California that celebrated May Day every year on the Saturday after May 1st. Celebrations included a parade, a maypole dance by third graders, and a May Day royal court made up of kindergarten students which included my youngest sister one year. I don’t live there now but I checked and it turns out that the town still does that. The local newspaper says that the celebration is now in it’s 97th year.

    https://www.almanacnews.com/news/2019/05/02/woodside-celebrates-may-day-on-may-4-with-a-parade-of-traditions

  4. Growing up, the middle school I attended celebrated May Day by having all the students participate in the maypole dance. I moved out of the area but I wonder if my school still does this. My kids have never mentioned a maypole so it looks like the school they attend doesn’t which is unfortunate as it’s something I really enjoyed.

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