Maypole dancing (

           Tis May!

         Tis May!


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Tis May! Tis May!
The Lusty Month of May!
When Everyone and Everything,
Goes Blissfully Astray!

Hylus Meets The Nymphs


May Day! What a glorious holiday. I think it’s a stinking shame that it’s not celebrated in The U.S. any more. It was still celebrated some when I was a kid. We would make little paper baskets, fill them with flowers and hang them on the door knobs of our neighbors, ring the door bell and then run and hide in the bushes. They would come out, professing great surprise and we would giggle. Then we usually got invited in and offered a goodie.


When my mother was a girl in San Francisco, May Day was a huge holiday. All the schools met in Golden Gate Park. There would be picnicking, dancing, games and of course dancing around the May Pole. In the evening, a huge bonfire was built and there would be a sing along with all of San Francisco’s school children. The sing along was always lead by some celebrity who might be in town. One

year that celebrity was the contralto, Madam Ernestine_Schumann-Heink. She was wearing a beautiful pair of shoe clips and my mother admired them. She bent down, removed one from her shoe and gave it to my mother. It, along with many other mementos that I have no other means of displaying, makes it’s annual showing on our Christmas Tree each year.


May Day was originally one of the four quarter holidays, (day that fall halfway between the Equinoxes and the Solstices) and it belonged to the workers. It was a day when no work was done, the landlord of the farm was required to provide a huge feast for all his tenant farmers and employees. Special casks of ale were made just for the occasion. The day was totally given over to enjoyment: dancing, singing, games, feasting, and yes, usually way too much drinking. It was one of the most popular medieval festivals because it celebrated the end of a long, hard winter.


The English Country Kitchen



As with so many festivals, including Easter and Halloween, May Day predates Christianity and was already a permanent fixture of both the church and the social calendar by the Middle Ages. In pagan tradition, the May festival of Beltane was exactly six months from the winter feast of Samhain (pronounced sowin) in November, which heralded the start of cold, dark days. In a world before electricity, people in the Middle Ages were much more aware of the changing of the seasons, because they had such an impact on their lives. The thought of long summer nights and a good harvest, with a plentiful supply of food to come, provided every excuse to celebrate May Day.



Bringing in the May
Medieval May Day celebrations started on the night before the first of May, Beltane Eve. There would be a bonfire and dancing, feasting and drinking, as well as tales of May Days gone by.  At the break of dawn on May Day, it was traditional for the young men and women of a community to go into the woods or forest and gather flowers and branches ready for the day’s celebrations. Neighboring villages would everlasting youth.compete to see who could bring back the largest piece of wood, which would be used as the maypole. It was also said that anyone who bathed in the morning dew of May Day, would have a radiant complexion and long live.

Flowers and trees were a major feature of this festival. Men could deliver a tree decorated with streamers to the doorstep of a girl they liked. But tradition said if the streamers were white, this signified hatred. Long streamers were also attached to the village Maypole for dancing and young men and women would wind the ribbons around each other as the dance progressed, in the hope of becoming entangled with their future love.


The Queen of the May

The high point of the celebrations was the crowning of the Queen of the May. The queen was chosen from all the eligible young women in the community and would be the envy of the other girls as she was crowned with flowers and paraded around the village.

The Green Man was a feature in some May celebrations and although he appears to be of pagan origin, he is mentioned in later medieval records as the Lord of Misrule.    




Some communities May Day celebrations have continued in an unbroken chain of tradition for generations.  In the village of Ickwell Green , Bedfordshire there are records of May Day celebrations dating as far back as the 1560’s.  As you can see from the illustrations below, there has been very little change over the years.






Morris Dancers were, and are, a part of the celebrations, sometimes rising at dawn to dance the day in and sometimes at the end of the day, when the feasting and dancing began in earnest. The dancers were often dressed as animals, sometimes with antlers. This, again, fits in with the flora and fauna themes of the day. May Day was as much a part of the medieval calendar as Christmas and Easter. In a world where prosperity depended so much on the weather and the changing of the seasons, the start of summer was a big event.



Commonwealth Morris Men

Here are a few of the May Day celebrations still practiced in England.

Padstow 'Obby_'Oss_Festival
Padstow ‘obby Oss - youtube

May Morning in Oxford


Because of its association with the working class, the Soviets adopted May Day as their special day of celebration. Due to this, during the cold war, May Day fell into disfavor in the United States. Unfortunately, it has not had a rebirth. Isn't it about time it did?

Life should be about celebration.  Why not keep the spirit of May Day alive in your family.  Perhaps have your children make little paper baskets to fill with flowers and give to neighbors and friends on May Morning.  Hang a spray of greenery festooned with ribbons on your door and have a family dinner comprised of delectable springtime dishes.  Here are some you might enjoy .

Asparagus with Mushrooms and Almonds
Asparagus and Mushroom Omelet
Minted Peas
Herbed New Potatoes
Broiled Lamb Chops with Herbed Reduction
Chicken Breasts with Mushrooms
Springtime Strawberry & Ricotta Muffins
Strawberry Shortcake



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