Friday, May 1, 2009

Happy May Day!!

This is not the “May Day! May Day! “of distress calls. This is the May Day of my childhood. The first day of May! The day that often felt like the first REAL day of Spring to me in Iowa when I was growing up. The first of the flowers were blooming and it was warm enough to go outside with just a sweater or a light jacket on; if needed.

One of the most popularly known May Day traditions is to hang a basket full of spring flowers and/or other small gifts on a neighbor's doorknob or porch. The trick is you don't want the neighbor to see you! If you get caught, you are supposed to get a kiss. (Yuck!) We often would fill these homemade paper baskets with popcorn, jelly beans, and chocolate kisses. We had a great deal of fun, sneaking up to the neighbor’s porch, carefully placing the basket, knocking on the door (or ringing the doorbell), then RUN! FOREST, RUN! Very rarely did we get caught. Most often, we rather prided ourselves on having the neighbor never figuring out who it was that left the basket on their porch. We would hide in the bushes and wait. (Above Photo: "Maypole Singers" an oil painting I did based on singers in a May Day Festival in Amana Colonies in Iowa.)

When I first moved to Utah, I tried this May Day basket thing. But it just left my neighbors perplexed. They had never heard of this May Day tradition, and rather acted like I was a creature from another planet. (Which I have to admit, sometimes, I feel like that in Utah.) It wasn’t until years later that I had a neighbor move in across the street, who was originally from Michigan, that I was able to start up the tradition again for awhile. She understood the tradition, and she often would have each one of her young sons deliver and dash baskets to my front porch. It was all sorts of merriment that I would run after them and warn them that I was going to catch them. But quite often, we would be laughing so hard that we would be rolling in the grass across their front yard.

Another popular activity on May Day is to decorate a pole with brightly colored ribbon or paper streamers. Some also add flowers and balloons. The pole is usually carried in a parade and then placed in the ground at a designated area. People then dance around the May pole, holding the ends of the streamers or ribbon in their hands. The Maypole Dance as it’s called. One year when I was back in Iowa visiting my Mom, we went down to the Amana Colonies and attended their May Day festivities. One of which was a Maypole Dance. The girls doing the dance were dressed in dresses with aprons and their hair is swept up in buns. I did some paintings based on photos of this a few years back. (Above Photo: "Maypole Dancers" an oil painting I did based on Maypole Dancers at a May Day Festival in Amana Colonies in Iowa.)

It’s interesting all the different cultural celebrations there are for the same day. I recently surfed the Internet; I discovered all kinds of ways that people celebrate May Day. In London, May Day is celebrated with the children going from house to house. They bring flowers and get pennies in return. The pennies are then thrown into a wishing well. The pennies are then donated to charity. Gee, and I remember picking flowers and trying to sell them to the neighbors as a kid, but I usually kept the money. Am I bad?

In France, cows play an important role in May Day. The cows are led in parades with many flowers attached to their tails. The people watching the parade try to touch the cows; it is believed to be good luck. Cows are good luck? So what about cow tipping? Does that undo the luck? In Germany, one tradition is for boys to secretly plant a May tree in front of the window of the girl they love. Interesting … So is this an early form of courtship? And what is the parent’s reaction when a boy is digging a hole in their front yard? I wonder.

The people in Hawaii celebrate their own version of May Day; they call it Lei Day. People give Hawaiian leis to each other. They put them around each other's necks and sometimes give a traditional kiss. Gee, and I thought this happened all of the time in Hawaii. At least according to all of the tourist brochures I see, it does. They are such a friendly lot!

But anway, Happy May Day to you! Which ever way you may, or may not, celebrate it!

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