It’s May Day! The first of May, and coincidentally it is the first day of Music in May, a series of free concerts held in the public park in the community in which I live. As I write this, it is still early so I cannot report first hand on the event, but I can draw on the concerts I attended last year. But before I do, I thought it would be interesting to read-up a bit on the history of May Day.
The earliest records of May Day celebrations are pre-Christian, with the celebration of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. The celebration was traditionally held on April 27. The Gaelic people had a similar festival held on April 30th. Traditionally, May Day was a summer holiday. February 1st was considered the 1st day of spring with May as the 1st day of summer; hence the summer solstice on June 25th (now the 21st) was Midsummer. This made me wonder if there was a connection with Shakespeare’s play (for example did the events of the play supposedly happen on the June 24 – the eve of Midsummer), but I found no reference.
OK, so May Day festivals traditionally include dancing around the May Pole and crowning the Queen of May. As for the May Pole, there is no certainty as to the origin or meaning behind the pole. Theories range from their depiction of trees (representing new growth) to phallic symbols representing, well, new growth – ‘tis the season. Anyway, the whole tradition seems to be pretty much of Germanic origins. As for the Queen of May. Today the May Queen is a girl who rides or walks at the front of a parade for May Day celebrations. Wearing a crown of flowers and dressed in white to symbolize purity her duty is to begin the May Day celebrations. Following a speech, she encourages certain age groups to dance round the Maypole celebrating youth and the spring time. The tradition has a rather sinister twist. According to folklore, at the conclusion of the festivities, the May Queen sacrificed—murdered! Though the veracity of this is speculative; associations between May Day ritual and the occult and are still to be found in popular culture today. The Wicker Man is a good example.
OK, so back to Music May. The community in which I live is what’s called a “planned” community, which means that the home owners association is a bit…strict. Their enforcement of the community by-laws has, on more than one occasion, resulted in the “Stepford” moniker. Never-the-less, the HOA is well adapt at putting on community events (though I still fail to understand the fireworks and carnival atmosphere expressed on July 3rd).
The community is only 15 years old with a population of approximately 22,000 people. The central park is a lush green oasis in the desert that includes waterfalls, ball fields and a mini-railroad. The amphitheater is the center stage for tonight’s festivities and the lawns are covered with chairs, blankets, dogs and children. Vendor’s carts fill the air with the smell of hotdogs, kettle corn and cotton candy. Children laugh, run and roll down the hills, while the adults sit and commune with their neighbors, many of whom they have never met, but with whom they now chat as though they are old friends. It is a Rockwellian sight.
The band is playing, tonight it’s hit’s from the 70’s & 80’s (yeah!), but next Friday it will be something entirely different. I’ve never lived anywhere like this. We’ll be moving in a few weeks. Thankfully it’s to a similar community. But for tonight, I walk amongst the crowds, my (second) best friend by my side (Murphy – our St. Bernard mix). I miss my wife, who is away on a business trip, but I am grateful for a small community that makes me feel welcome.