Friday, May 3, 2013

Fun Friday Facts #71: May Day Edition

Now that that cock-block of an A to Z challenge is over, we can get back to your regularly scheduled programming, part of which, you’ll remember, is Fun Friday Facts! Yay! Hooray! Fun Friday Facts are BACK!

Now, I know May Day was on Wednesday BUT, that was Wednesday, NOT Friday, so my hands were tied. I also know May Day isn’t really celebrated in the United States but that is precisely why I decided to blog about it. There’s a whole world out there, kids. Look into it.

May Day celebrations, like pretty much everything else I blog about on Fridays, date back to antiquity. May Day’s pre-Christian celebrations were associated with Walpurgis Night in Germanic Europe; Beltane in Celtic and Gaelic regions; and the Roman festival of Flora, goddess of flowers. Though not terribly popular in ancient Rome, Flora was super-popular among Renaissance Europeans, which is why she appears in every other work of art from the period.

As seen here in Botticelli's Primavera.

Like many other pagan holidays, May Day has been absorbed into the Christian tradition, although perhaps not as perfectly as holidays like Christmas, Easter and All Saint’s Day. The Catholics among you will know that 1 May is celebrated as a holiday in honor of the Virgin Mary, who may be depicted wearing a crown of flowers for the occasion. The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is also celebrated on 1 May, to coincide with International Worker’s Day, since Joseph is the patron saint of workers, among other things. May Day was among the holidays suppressed during the English Interregnum, which lasted from 1649 to 1660. In England, May Day is celebrated with Morris dancing:

Video credit: John Cummings

In France, it has been customary to gift a lily of the valley, as a traditional springtime symbol on 1 May, ever since King Charles IX received one for good luck on 1 May 1561. In Germany, the night before May Day is Walpurgisnacht, when bonfires are lit and the streamers are wrapped around the maypole. In the Rhineland, a young demonstrate his romantic interest in a young girl by giving her a maypole on the first of May, although on leap years, these roles are reversed. A young woman might express her affection by leaving a heart made of roses or rice on the window or doorstep of her manly man.

This looks like it might take more than one person.
Image credit: Florian Schott

In Romania, the May Day holiday is known as “mugwort day” or “drunkard’s day” because of the custom of wearing mugwort flowers and drinking mugwort-flavored wine while partying outside. People usher in a year of good health by using the morning’s dew to wash their faces. They hang birch saplings and green branches over the gates of their homes and animal shelters for good luck. On the eve of May Day, women are forbidden to work either in the fields or in the home, lest the village be ravished by storms. Neither are animals to be used for labor on May Day, to protect them and their owners from illness.