Monday, February 17, 2014

May Day Festivites

      What a varied and versatile holiday is May Day, meaning of course, the First of May--an occasion which has significance of one kind or another in a number of different countries. For some Americans probably the greatest prestige comes from the circumstances that May Day is also "Dewey Day," meaning the anniversary of that memorable spring morning when navel hero, Commodore George Dewey, took his fleet into Manila Bay and dealt the blow which did more than any other single incident to determine the outcome of the Spanish-American war. To be sure, it was not the custom of the nation to indulge in spectacular observances of "Dewey Day," but there was a general display of the flag on residences and public buildings in honor of the occasion and it was a favorite occasion for banquets and speech-making over 100 years ago.
"May Day" - Cartoon depicting Moving Day
 (May 1) in New York City in 1831
      To go at once to the other extreme in cataloguing the functions of May Day it may be noted that May Day is also "moving day," meaning the date on which expire most leases of residential property and when, in consequence, there is a general flitting to and fro of the folk who live in rented houses and in apartments or flats. In some communities April 1 is more generally observed as "moving day" than is May 1, but in most sections of the country the later date is preferred. In more recent years too, custom has given October 1 some significance as a moving day, but for the great majority of our people who move only once a year, at most, May 1 still has the call as a fixed festival for the shifting of household shrines.
May Day Demonstration in 
Stockholm, Sweden, 1899
      May Day is a date marked for its own by organized labor not only in the United States, but pretty much throughout the civilized world. In many cities there are on this day each year monster parades of the union labor organizations, and it has long been accepted as the most auspicious occasion for inaugurating great general strikes in the various trades. Some May Days have been rendered memorable by riotous disturbances, but during the past few years the observances of the holiday has, for the most part, passed of quietly.
      In the early half of the 20th century, American children looked forward the May Day as a holiday event. There were May-pole dances and frolics of various kinds in the parks if the weather permitted and these were so organized as to enlist the participation of the local kindergarteners and preschoolers. When the weather or other conditions prevented the festivities in the open air, special exercises were held in the school rooms. In short, May Day was for the whole body of American young people an occasion of relaxation and jollity, but for all that there were so many frolics, dancing parties and social gatherings on the date, there was one discordant note in the dearth of weddings. May 1, and, indeed every day in May, would seem to be ideal of weddings , but the old superstition that May marriages were unlucky restricted the number of brides on May Day and on the thirty days that followed.
Example of a Ribbon Dance. The larger Maypole in the
 background is used by older children. The main
village maypole is too tall for dancing.
      May Day, although not always, of course, known by that name, is one of the oldest holidays on the calendar. In the church calendar the first of May is the combined day of St. Philip the Apostle and St. James the Less, but the festivities which mark the day in Great Britain, France, Germany and other  countries are what may be termed the direct descendants of the ancient Roman Floralia and the Druidic feasts in honor of the god Bel--the Baal of the Scriptures. Indeed, the origin of the holiday seems to date still farther back in the history of India and Egypt, and in both of those ancient countries the May-pole was a recognized and conspicuous emblem.
Histories of May Day

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