May Day

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May Day

***** Location: England, worldwide
***** Season: Early Summer
***** Category: Humanity


Compiled by Susan Shand, England

The first day of May is Known as "May Day" in England.
The origins of this festival of spring emerge from the Celtic spring festival of Beltane. There are therefore many references to to new life, emergence, fertility; fresh greenery and flowers are used to decorate carts, doorways and of course, the Maypole. It coincides with the flowering of the Hawthorn, or May Blossom; which is a late flowering blossom and its emergence marks the full establishment of spring and the end of frost and snow. By the time the Hawthorn blooms there are many wildflowers in the hedgerows and most trees are bursting into new leaf.

such life!
with Beltane we celebrate
the flowering May

CLICK for more photos The Maypole is a tall pole with a cartwheel attached to the top (on the horizontal) to create a fixed or rotating anchor for (usually 12) very long bright ribbons. These are tied firmly to the rim of the wheel all around it in colour pairs. The pole is set up in some prominent place in the centre of the village and a corresponding wider circle drawn on the ground below with places marked, like the face of a clock. Dancers take a ribbon and stand on their mark. Local musicians play dance tunes and the dancers execute set pieces designed so that by dancing around the circle and each other, they wrap the pole in the bright ribbons - then they reverse the dance to unwrap it again. Sometimes elaborate three-dimensional shapes such as "the spider's web" are created. Some dances originate in the early Celtic symbolism and others reflect more the Georgian and Victorian eras when the may pole was a popular feature of most English rural villages and the custom was often continued by schools in more industrial areas in the ensuing years.

May Day
a rainbow of ribbons
wreaths the pole

CLICK for more photos, painting by Emily BalivetThere is often a chosen May Queen and sometimes also a King, paraded in style in a flower-bestrewn carriage, or a farm truck depending what is available. Morris dancing is also much to be seen. Some Morris dances evoke the Beltane awakenings of life and the scaring away of the dark days of winter and its associated demons. Other styles reflect the communal set piece dances of more formal times where young people enjoyed a rare opportunity to meet and to dance with their sweethearts. May Day is often the first public 'outing' of established Morris 'Sides' who use the winter months to practice familiar dances and to learn new ones.

with blackened faces
they beat away the winter
May Day Morris

The sharing of a feast in the open air (weather permitting) is also traditional. Although these days it is more likely to be a barbeque than a communal meal. Many rural villages have revived the May festival in recent years, having previously lost them to wider roads, roundabouts, housing development and the modernism of the 1960's.

Susan Shand, May 2009
WKD ... Facebook


May Day occurs on May 1 and refers to several public holidays.

In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of Pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of maypoles, and young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto: "Tanz in den Mai!" ("Dance into May!").
Erster Mai.

In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day, and is normally set aside as a day to celebrate island culture in general and native Hawaiian culture in particular.

CLICK for more photos Modern May Day ceremonies in the U.S. vary greatly from region to region and many unite both the holiday's "Green Root" (pagan) and "Red Root" (labor) traditions.
International Workers' Day

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Worldwide use


May First, May Day, First of May メーデー (mee dii)

worker's festival, roodoo sai 労働祭(ろうどうさい)
..... roodoo setsu 労働節(ろうどうせつ)
"May Festival", gogatsu sai 五月祭(ごがつさい)
"May Day Song", meedii ka メーデー歌(めーでーか)
"May Day Flag", meedii ki メーデー旗(めーでーき)

WKD ... month of MAY (gogatsu 五月 )

Things found on the way


may day...
its lei day
in Hawaii

Shanna Baldwin, Hawaii

WKD ... month of MAY (gogatsu 五月 )


Labor Day...
breakfast is more enticing
than the placards

Labor Day...
a bunch of workers
sits in circle

Labor Day...
is it the pen
or the street?

Willie Bongcaron, Philippines, May 2010


May Day
a pair of glow worms
hand in hand

- Shared by Satdeep Gill -
Joys of Japan, 2012

Related words

***** Walpurgis Night (walpurgisnight) Walpurgisnacht (Germany).


. Labour Day, USA Labor Day  
kigo for autumn



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