Sunday, May 4, 2014

May Day

I’m a little late in this post, but I decided to go with this real, slightly late date (vs. cheating and pretending I posed on May1) because this little research actually came in handy. Back in April I was at work in a brainstorming session when someone pitched the idea of running a May Day coupon. And while I thought it was a great idea, I also thought about the whole mystique (at least for me) of May Day and what it symbolizes in modern society.

What is May Day? How was it celebrated? What did the holiday represent?

May Day has always been a Northern Hemisphere holiday, celebrated in Europe before Christianity spread to the region. The earliest known celebrations appeared with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. A five-day celebration was held in her honor, beginning on April 28 and ending May 2.

May Day was also known as the Gaelic Beltane in Britain. The Druids would celebrate the festival by lighting fires to give life to the springtime sun, driving cattle through the fires to purify them (I’m not sure how this worked, but I am indeed curious), and couples passing through the smoke for good luck in their relationship.

In pre-Christian European pagan cultures, May Day marked the first day of summer. February 1 was the official first day of spring, and the summer solstice on June 25 was Midsummer.

The May Day pole seems to date from the Middle Ages. Towns would work together to erect large Maypoles, even competing with neighboring towns for the tallest one. Interestingly, the Maypole came from Germany and other Northern European countries. The Maypole dance also goes along with the tradition. Now, this little bit of knowledge served me well on May Day – I could tell one of my bosses about this when he asked about the May Day pole (I love when my research pays off!).

Since I was the one in charge of the entire May Day campaign, I used the May Day pole on the imagery (because in my mind, that is what I associate with the holiday). Well, one of my coworkers saw the imagery and commented that that wasn’t what she first thought of. In her childhood, they would create baskets of flowers and leave them for people to find.

So I wanted to see what traditions are associated with this holiday. There is the May Pole, dancing, eating & drinking, celebrating with flowers, and also trying magic (apparently it’s easiest to perform divination on May Day, who knew?)

So why is this ancient holiday relevant today? I think it’s important to remember where we came from. I also think it’s important to celebrate the changing seasons. And like the Druids, I always like celebrations that involve purifying yourself and starting again.

Happy History!

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