Ah, May Day. In my childhood, it was the ultimate day for a legitimate game of Doorbell Ditch.
|Image by Barbara KB via Flickr|
Maybe I was alone in my observance of May Day. It certainly wasn’t a huge thing in my town—no folk festivals or anything—but our elementary school owned a maypole, which made its annual appearance at the sixth grade folk-dance performance. With polka music blaring from the loudspeakers, the kids each took hold of a pastel streamer and wove over and under each other around the pole. The effect of plaited streamers and rosy-cheeked kids was charming, in my young opinion.
|Maypoles at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania|
The Romans honored Flora, goddess of flowers, with a five-day festival in late April. The tradition spread to the British Isles, but already, the Celts marked roughly the same period as celebratory. May 1st was considered the first day of summer, fallingl halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice (Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream took place on the solstice, what we now consider to be the first day of the season). And summer was a reason to party.
And boy, most of Europe celebrated, from England to Germany to Sweden. Many villages elected a flower-crowned May Queen, an unmarried young woman to symbolically rule over the coming harvest. Elizabethan-era diarist Henry Machyn records seeing a lord and lady of the May one “jolly May Day,” along with drums, speeches, and morris dancers.
|Lily of the Valley, May's official flower|
The advent of summer seemed a good time to make marriages, too. What’s more romantic than “bringing in the may” with a handsome suitor? Gathering greens and flowers was only done by single folks in some parts of medieval Europe, and it no doubt provided a chance for romance to blossom alongside the wildflowers. Maypoles, too, were the domain of marriageable young folk. May Day baskets must have been, as well, because if you were caught dropping one off, you owed the person who caught you a kiss. (I am thankful I never knew this as a child.)
European settlers brought these traditions with them to America—even on the Mayflower. Gradually, most customs faded or, like the symbols of baby chicks and bunnies, became incorporated into the most glorious celebration of life in history: Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus is the greatest gift we'll ever receive, but God still showers us with additional blessing upon blessing on top of the gift of His Son. Spring is another of His gifts, I believe--a reminder that He is the giver of life and He takes pleasure in the beauty of His creation. He who makes all things new has provided vivid illustrations to underscore His point: leaves unfurling, baby birds hatching, tomatoes ripening on the vine.
I think God knows how much I need spring, too. When the gray fog of winter gives way to blue skies and the first daffodils push through the ground, my energy swells. I paint my toenails, visit the farmer’s market, and spend more time outdoors. Today I’ve watered seedlings, adjusted sweet peas on their trellises, and anxiously checked on the mama hummingbird nesting outside my front window.
I feel healthier. When spring comes, I even feel like cleaning. Well, for about five minutes. But that’s five minutes' more enthusiasm than I had in February. I can totally understand my ancestors’ appreciation for May Day.
So consider this my virtual May Day gift to you. I’ve rung your doorbell, and sitting on your welcome mat is a poorly constructed basket of good wishes and your favorite flowers. Happy May, and Happy reminder that God, the giver of life, is busy and active in His world.
What flowers are in your virtual May basket?