Do you celebrate May Day? I think I may be one of the few Americans who has. Growing up in Virginia, we celebrated it every spring at our school, which went from preschool to second grade. It was the crowning event of the year. All of the children wore costumes, which our mothers sewed, and we all performed dances for the parents. Today I’m taking a trip down memory lane to a May Day from my youth.
I eagerly awaited being in first grade because the children in first and second grade got to dance around the maypole. I still remember being in awe of the older kids as they wove the ribbons in a pattern around the maypole.
The boys would usually hold one color of ribbon and dance in one direction while the girls danced with a contrasting color of ribbon in another direction. After the dance, we all lined up to honor the May Queen and May King, who were chosen from among the second graders. They got to sit in seats of honor at the head of the festivities.
It was probably because of the maypole dance that May Day was one of my favorite childhood holidays. On May Day, I would often gather flowers from our yard to take to our neighbors. I remember gathering tiny violets, placing them in the little green plastic baskets that strawberries came in, and then taking a basket to each neighbor. It was a wonderful feeling to usher in the warmer days of summer with all the beautiful flowers and greenery exploding around us.
We know from Jane Austen’s letters that the maypole was an important feature of the town where they lived. On November 9, 1800, Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra that their village maypole had been destroyed in a storm:
We have had a dreadful storm of wind in the forepart of this day . . . One large Elm out of two on the left hand side, as you enter what I call the Elm walk was likewise blown down, the Maypole bearing the weathercock was broke in two, and what I regret more than all the rest is that all three Elms which grew in Hall’s meadow and gave such ornament to it are gone.
May Day was evidently an important celebration for the Austens and their neighbors. How about you? Have you ever celebrated May Day?