Monday, April 30, 2012

Be You Blithe and Bonny

Time to dust off your ribbons and pick some dandelions!
May Day is tomorrow, are you prepared?

Traditionally called Beltane by the Gaelic, this spring festival falls on a cross-quarter day, the mid-point between spring equinox and summer solstice. It is exactly six months from Samhain, or All Hollows Eve, another debaucherous badass pagan festival (see Twelfth Night) that modern collegiate society has parlayed into men dressing as women, and women dressing as slutty nurses, slutty witches, and slutty cops. But this is May Day, when we plant, not harvest, and herald in the Spring. Common theme descriptions of these holiday celebrations involve fires, flowers, feasting, and fertility.
And of course, dancing. And drinking.

Lots of folks in central and northern Europe still flail around enormous bonfires in celebration of Walpurgis Night, or as those eloquent Germans call it, Walpurgisnacht. Seriously guys. Way to make something steeped in flowers, flames, and amorous lagamorphs sound like walrus barf. But then again, next to the Swedish Valborgsmassoafton, Walpurgisnacht rings like the sound of dainty elves tip-toeing over rosebuds at sunset. The Finnish call the day Vappu, and commemorate it by sipping sima, a sweet homemade mead punctuated with swollen raisins, eating funnel cakes, and hanging pom poms from their hats. Hmm. 

Anyway, as is the fate of so many good ol' fashioned pagan holidays, May Day has lost more than a little of its ancient bite (boozy raisins and hat bling, anyone?). Thanks, Christians. Still, as a dyed-in-the-wool treehugger, I say it is never too late to vamp up your seasonal Earth-worshiping, in ways subtle or extreme.

Suggestions on how to celebrate this May Day: 

- Stay up all night and wash your face in the morning dew. This will apparently allow you to retain lifelong beauty.

- Weave a crown of flowers. Wear it. Get your floral on.

- Find or make a Maypole. Dance around it. Wrap it up.

- Hug a Morris dancer. Or, better yet, strap on some ribbons and bells and be a Morris dancer. Wave handkerchiefs, smack sticks together, prance and hop and jig.

- Channel old Jack-in-the-Green by dressing up like a conical bush.

- Drive your sheep herds to their summer pastures. Drive! Drive!

- Eat an oatcake. Jump over burning coals. Get smoke in your eyes. For luck.

- Run into the North Sea. Naked.

- Burn something. Preferably outside.

- Ding-dong-ditch a friend. Leave a basket of flowers, sweets, and sundries on a doorstep, and ring the bell. If the recipient manages to chase you down, you should expect a smooch. That's just how we do on May Day. Incidentally, if you can find my remote house in the Montana woods, know that I do have a doorbell...

- And if you're feeling especially freaky and Celtic, you can always grab your sweetie and reenact the um, ritual union of the May Lord and Lady. Antlers optional.

Other notable references/interpretations of the day:

In the United States, May first is also commemorated as Law Day. This must be about as fun as it sounds. Litigate! It is also International Worker's Day. I appreciate the leftist agenda and honor workers far and wide... but when has a solemn solidarity parade ever featured the fun of green face paint and pan flutes?

Please also note that May Day bares no relation to that famous distress call mayday! mayday! Which derives from the French venez m'aider, meaning "come help me" find this bonfire beach party, mon ami!
And be you blithe and bonny, converting all your sounds of woe into hey, nonny, nonny.

Happy May Day!


  1. Have to say, I love me some Edna St. Vincent Millay and May Day, both of which you've written about as of late. In school in Hawai'i we had May day off for celebrations. We would 'borrow' plumeria flowers from neighbors to make leis and then return the flowers to their door step with a ding dong and dash. I hope something sweet finds your door step.

  2. Thanks, Pilar. And to you! Happy spring.