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~ Kathy M.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sepia Saturday #123: May Day ~ History and Celebration Ideas

One of this week's theme choices on Sepia Saturday is dancing around the maypole, one of the activities associated with celebrating May Day.  May Day is the first day in May, and this year that means it will be next Tuesday.  

You will never believe what I found in my Grandma T.'s photo album.  I love my relatives, dead and alive for helping me keep our memories survive.  Here is a picture of one of her best friends, Maxine Sanders, age 17, chosen to be May Queen of Drain, Oregon in 1930.  (The back of the photo says that Grandma T. and Maxine graduated in 1931.)

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy ~ Kathy Matthews
Maxine ~ May Queen

"The Queen of May"
By Alix Thorn

THE day was fair, a gentle breeze invited,
The flowers all gathered, by the basket lay,
The pole was timed the shining drum well corded—
Where could be found a lovely Queen of May.

For Polly giggled at the very notion,
And Helen’s frock was sadly torn that day,
And sunburned Ruthie’s curls were wildly ruffled –
Oh, for a queen, a stately Queen of May.

Close to his friends stood Rover, gentle collie,
Whose faithful, loving eyes sure seemed to say:
“I’d gladly help you, if I could but do it –
To choose a queen, a graceful Queen of May.

A happy thought came to the lads and lassies,
They, laughing, trooped adown the sunlit way;
On Rover's head they laid a wreath of posies --
And crowned the queen, their lovely Queen of May.

 From the 1977 book by Becky Stevens Cordello (Butterick Publishing) called "Celebrations"

This all got me interested in finding out more about May Day.  When we were little, my friends and I would make little baskets from paper, fill them with flowers, place them on the neighborhood doors, ring the doorbell and then go and hide.  One year, Carly and I got our months mixed up and tried this on April first instead; the joke was on us!

How to Make a May Basket

 The History of May Day

Different cultures have celebrated May First for centuries, beginning with the Druids, who held the festival of Beltane at that time of year.  They celebrated half of a year gone by, and lit a new fire to help the spring sun become more powerful.  The Druids also used that fire for purification and fertility purposes, running their cattle through the flames and their young couples through the smoke. 

The Romans held a festival at the end of April and beginning of May to worship the goddess of flowers, Flora.  The name of their festival was called Floralia, and eventually they combined the Druid rituals with their own; many which have been handed down to this day. 

Every village had a maypole by the Middle Ages in England.  Larger cities kept theirs up year round.  Smaller townships made a new one each year, much like putting up a Christmas tree.  The whole village would get into it and really enjoy themselves.  When the Puritans came into power, they outlawed maypoles in 1644.  After 20 years, they were given the boot and May Day was once again celebrated.  

Not just a Pagan symbol, the maypole was also known as the May Tree and eventually became called the Tree of Liberty during the French Revolution.  Today, May Day is mainly celebrated with May Baskets, Maypole Dancing, choosing a Queen of May and festivals.

  The May Queen ~ The Queen of the May

This print appeared in Godey's Lady's Book, 1851.
From the 1977 book by Becky Stevens Cordello (Butterick Publishing) "Celebrations"

Mary Queen of the May (Bring Flowers of the Rarest)
performed by John McDermott

Bring flow'rs of the fairest,
Bring flow'rs of the rarest,
From garden and woodland
And hillside and vale;
Our full hearts are swelling,
Our Glad voices telling
The praise of the loveliest
Rose of the vale.

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May,
O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

Our voices ascending,
In harmony blending,
Oh! Thus may our hearts turn
Dear Mother, to thee;
Oh! Thus shall we prove thee
How truly we love thee,
How dark without Mary
Life's journey would be.

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May,
O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

O Virgin most tender,
Our homage we render,
Thy love and protection,
Sweet Mother, to win;
In danger defend us,
In sorrow befriend us,
And shield our hearts
From contagion and sin.

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May,
O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

Of Mothers the dearest,
Oh, wilt thou be nearest,
When life with temptation
Is darkly replete?
Forsake us, O never!
Our hearts be they ever
As Pure as the lilies
We lay at thy feet.

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May,
O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

The Maypole Dance

"The pole, which need not be over seven feet high, must have an even number of gaily-colored ribbons tacked around and near the top.  Ornament the top of the pole with colored streamers and suspend a wreath of flowers by means of two ribbons crossed and nailed on the top of the pole.  Fasten the four ribbon ends to the flower wreath.  The dancers stand facing alternately right and left, each holding a ribbon i the hand nearest the pole.  Each dancer facing the right passes under the ribbon held by the dancer opposite, then allows the next dancer to pass under his ribbon.  In and out, over and under, the ribbons weave."  Becky Stevens Cordello, Celebrations, P. 80  

 From the 1977 book by Becky Stevens Cordello (Butterick Publishing) "Celebrations"

This video is long, but it is well done and very comprehensive:

So, my friends, there you go!  Hope that you walked away from this with a bit more information than when you started out.  Happy May Day, next Tuesday.  How will you celebrate, or will you?  

~ Kathy M.

So, there you are, my friends.  If you enjoyed this story, please visit my Sepia Saturday friends by "CLICKING HERE" to find other neat photos and stories.  To read more about my family and other stories featuring old photos, memories and more, please look for this picture of me and my dad on the left-hand sidebar and read whatever else catches your fancy.  Thanks so much for visiting!

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy ~ Kathy Matthews

At Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy, if you miss a day, you miss a lot!  All material on this post is copyrighted and not for use without my permission ...Please click here to go to my home page and see what is happening in Mayberry today.  Protected by Copyscape Duplicate Content Check


Coloring Outside the Lines said...

Wow, I learned alot today! That's a neat photo of your grandma's friend.

Little Nell said...

You've done it again Kathy, with the perfect photograph. She looks a bit unsure of herself though. It must have been a big responsibility as well as an honour. That little 'Celebrations' book is proving useful isn't it?

Retired English Teacher said...

I loved your post. May Day was so special when we wee kids. I got a kick our of you and your friend leaving "May flowers" on the doorstep on April Fool's Day by mistake. May Day symbolizes those days of innocence of our youth that are now gone forever.

Wendy said...

I'm glad you gave the history behind the May Pole and May Day. Wonderfully thorough post. I do wonder why May Day was such a big thing on college campuses (a point made in my mother's college newspaper article about the upcoming May Day Festival).

barbara and nancy said...

I love the photo of your grandmother's friend. How perfect for this post.
I almost used 2 of the same videos that you included in your post. Great minds...!! But then changed my focus.
I'll be celebrating my birthday on May 4. Can that be a May day celebration?

Postcardy said...

I like your May Queen photo. I couldn't tell for sure, but it looks like she has little wings.

Arkansas Patti said...

I can imagine your baskets of flowers on April 1st were highly suspect:))
I love the idea for May 1st however. Very sweet.
Ah, where did April go.

Christine H. said...

I understand so much more about May Day now. As always, a thorough and fascinating post.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Thank you, everybody, I'm happy that you enjoyed this one.


Karen S. said...

Oh my you linked up all the most wondeful parts of May Day ever. I really learned so much through this theme, it just blows me away with how wonderful so much of it was! How lucky too that you have an actual relative that was crowned May Queen, it's super cool for me because I spent a few hours looking at so much about it, and then you have the prettiest of them all! I too clicked through a few of the videos singing those songs, simple lovely! Thanks for such a wonderful post!

Tattered and Lost said...

I'm just stunned by her less than joyful expression. Wonder if the photographer took the shot and then said, "Ummmmm, would you like to take one now smiling?" Let's hope there was a follow-up shot. Either way she's lovely.

Alan Burnett said...

There doesn't seem to be a challenge I can throw out that cannot be matched perfectly by the old photograph collections of Sepia Saturdayers. And what a photograph : perfect in every way and garnished by a feast of information.

Teresa Wilson Rogers said...

The Queen of May - who knew? Beautiful illustrations!

Sheila @ A Postcard a Day said...

I love Morris dancing. I think it's my favourite of our customs, though when my sons were small, dancing around the maypole was great too. A great post!

Bob Scotney said...

You've taught me some things I should have known. With all your A-Z posts I'ma amazed that you fornd the time to compose such an informative post as this.

barbara and nancy said...

Maxine doesn't look at all happy to be queen. I wonder why?
I'd love to stitch the May queen and her lamb on that cross stitch chart.


You would make a great teacher!!
Thanx 4 sharing and good luck with your project.

Food Smarts said...

I too learned a lot from this post. I loved the tentative expression on the young May Queen's face. And the setting of the photo...I can remember when people's back yards used to look like this - a bit overgrown and blowsy, but so rich.

Nancy said...

Wow, you went to a lot of work for this post, Kathy. I love the photo of Maxine even though she looks so very serious. I suppose that was her interpretation of queenly appearance. Thanks for an interesting post.

L. D. Burgus said...

Yes, you did a great job finding out all that one could ever need to know. I was surprised to here of it's actual origin.

Karen S. said...

Here I am again a May Day 2015! Still loved your post and I clicked on the first two videos again! Excellent !

No Copying!


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