Let all thy joys be as the month of May. Let sorrow, sickness, and a troubled mind be a stranger to thee.
- Francis Quarles
If wars and rumors of wars, a still-sluggish economy, or 24-7 construction on Interstate 20 are weighing you down, relax, read a good book, or download a favorite, even frivolous memory and live it again. For me, that bit of remembered frivolity is synonymous with the arrival of this very, merry month of May.
May day! Not such a pleasant memory, perhaps, if you were a fighter pilot signaling distress. Not such a great day, either, if that first day of May reminds you of the cold-war years when the former Soviet Union paraded its chilling military might before a cowering world. And, from the 172 cases on a recent Richmond County docket to the legal-maneuvering over Columbia Countys misnomered rain tax, not such a grand day to observe Law Day, which also falls on the first of May.
But long before I knew anything of distress calls, weap-ons parades, or the courts and persuasive speech, May Day was as exciting to me as a birthday party, Halloween, or the Fourth of July. For right up there with jack-o lanterns, fireworks and the ice cream and cake were the May baskets we made, hung or received on that day from our most special friends.
First, as the month of April came to a close, we spent hours fashioning baskets out of pastel sheets of tissue paper, filling their reinforced bottoms with candy or tiny gifts, and deciding who would receive our semi-artistic creations. The procedure went something like this:
After dinner - May Day almost always fell on a school day - we would sneak up to the recipients front door, hang our basket on the doorknob, ring the bell, and run. The person who received the basket would then run after us and give us a kiss or a spanking - their choice.
(Our running speed was determined by how much we wanted that kiss, or didnt want the spanking.) Any girl whose doorbell rang more than twice was destined for stardom, or a bid for the Miss America crown.
If I had grown up in England, however, I might have celebrated May Day by dressing up like Robin Hood, dancing around a Maypole, or marching in the International Workers Day parade. Many countries, especially in Europe, still declare the day a public holiday to honor their workforce.
The intent may be similar to our Labor Day, but the celebrations are far more pronounced. In Germany, for example, its not unusual to see large bouquets of flowers or even small trees adorning the hoods of cars buses, or giant trucks on that day. In some cultures the day is such a part of life that everyone knows what it means to go a-maying.
The Maypole dance is another interesting tradition. Born in medieval times and performed around a brightly painted pole decorated with streamers, garlands and dyed eggshells, the dance was an annual celebration of the return of spring.
Dancers in equally bright costumes sprigged with flowers cavorted around the pole, hoping their exuberant offering to nature would yield fertile crops in the coming year.
I havent seen a Maypole dance or heard of anyone playing the May basket game in years. I doubt I could even remember how the fragile baskets were made. No doubt if we were to revive the practice today, we would go to Fat Mans or If Its Paper and buy something already made, like the store-bought Easter bunny pinta my blindfolded grandchildren swatted with their beribboned stick a couple of weeks ago.
But homemade, factory-made, flowered, beribboned or plain, May poles, baskets, and celebrations are a wonderful antidote to the disturbing, the controversial or assorted other heaviness that numbs our senses so much of the time today
Say, maybe next year we could combine a modern custom with a little medieval revelry. Instead of taking our sons and daughters to work around this time of year, we could reinvent the May basket, don frivolous duds, and go a-maying.
The work, the budget calculations, and the all-nightly news can wait.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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