May Day Traditions

May Day seems like one of those holidays that’s a big deal in elementary school and then you basically ignore for the rest of your life. I definitely remember making May Day baskets out of construction paper and doing a big school assembly where we had to dance the Maypole. I always got annoyed that the other kids couldn’t remember to go over and then under correctly and messed up the weaving of the Maypole ribbons.

But, May Day is actually a really interesting and beautiful holiday. It takes place on the first of May and was the traditional beginning of summer. Girls would start the day by washing their faces in the morning dew, said to have magical properties to make them beautiful (this seems like risky business in Brooklyn, so I won’t be trying it!).

Then, everyone would gather flowers and greenery to decorate their houses to bring good luck.

Children would put together May Day baskets- often as simple as a cone of paper with some flowers in it and leave them on the doorsteps of their friends and neighbors. Then they would ring the bell and run away.

Many towns and villages will elect a Queen of May who wears a white dress and a crown of flowers and opens up the festivities.

Traditional events at May Day celebrations are plays (often about King Arthur or Robin Hood), Morris and other ethnic dancing, and of course, the Maypole:

The Maypole is a tall pole (traditionally a tree was cut down to serve this purpose each year) with many streamers hanging down from it. It could also be decorate with a wreath of flowers at the top. To do the Maypole dance, each dancer takes a streamer. Every other dancer faces right and the rest face left. Then they each go over and then under each other in a weaving formation. If the dance is completed successfully, the ribbons turn into a beautiful pattern woven around the pole! See an example in the video below:

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