May Day has a checkered background. In some countries, May first is Labor Day, mainly a socialistic custom which came out of problematic employment practices. On May 1, 1886, unions organized strikes around the US to support the movement for an eight hour work day. I find it amazing it took national strikes (and probably much more) to achieve an eight hour work day. Today, May Day still brings out rallies and protests in parts of the world.
However, that was not how May Day began. Its original roots developed flowers of delight! Ancient Egypt, India, and Rome used May Day as a celebration of spring and fertility — ideas we currently associate with a secularized Easter. But . . . medieval England developed the best festival for welcoming the month of May! They erected Maypoles adorned with garlands of flowers. Our own State of Hawaii calls it Lei Day — a day to celebrate Hawaii’s history and culture.
On May Day in Kindergarten, I remember each person in my class had to carry their chair to the side lawn of the school where a pole was erected with ribbons streaming from the top. The Senior girls came prancing out of the school doors in beautiful, flouncy dresses. These fancy dresses probably doubled as their prom dress. Each took a ribbon, and they danced around the pole to music weaving the ribbons. The program culminated with the crowning of a May Queen. Carrying my chair that far, up and down stairs, left an indelible impression, but it was far overshadowed by the vision that remains of the beauty, simplicity, aesthetics, and dreamy fantasy I witnessed that day. To my chagrin, the music teacher who held this annual festival left our school at the end of that year. I learned many years later, my aunt had been crowned May Queen one May Day before my birth.
A custom in my tiny rural western New York State town and vicinity extended beyond and separately from the music teacher’s lovely celebration: May Baskets! Each year, kids created cone-shaped baskets from a piece of wallpaper, tied a ribbon hanger on them, and filled them with wildflowers. The purpose of the basket was to tell someone you loved them, but in secret! Secrecy being the goal, one hung their basket on the front door of the person admired, rang the doorbell, then ran away or hid behind bushes to watch the person retrieve their love gift. Children, thinking only of friendship love, hung baskets on many doors. Mine sent love to teachers, friends, and relatives. I tried having my children celebrate the day with May baskets, but it was not a tradition in St. Louis. No one understood. So they took a May basket to their teacher at school with no secrecy attached. My daughter attended a school in St. Louis, MICDS, which does, to this day, celebrate May Day with a Maypole, dancing, and crowning of a May Queen, held near the end of the month of May. I blogged about my daughter’s May Day in 1991 a few months ago. The 4th grade girls, 8th grade, and the Upper School Dance Club dance for the Seniors, the honored guests. Finally, the Seniors, in their white gowns, weave the Maypole.
Since my daughter and her fiancé decided to be married in May, though not May first, we incorporated May baskets as pew decorations.
Happy May Day!!!