May Day – May Day, It’s the First of May

 

Maypole at a girl's school in Brentwood in southern California, from Wikipedia, photo by Jengod
Maypole at a girl’s school in Brentwood in southern California, from Wikipedia, photo by Jengod

         “Not far from Merry Mount was a settlement of Puritans, most dismal wretches, who said their prayers before daylight, and then wrought in the forest or the cornfield till evening made it prayer time again.”  by Nathaniel Hawthorne from The Maypole of Merry Mount

May Day Now and Then

Today an editorial by Peter Dreir appeared on Huffington Post, concerning the international significance of May Day. The piece was written mainly from the viewpoint of the holiday as a time of political activity, particularly those pertaining to workers’ rights and immigration reform. No mention was given as to how the date traces its significance back to the old Celtic calandar used in many parts of Europe. Originally, the First of May was the time of year villagers celebrated the arrival of spring with dancing, feasting, drinking and much merriment……but unfortunately Mr. Dreir has forgotten this and sees the day, as one aligned with political struggles.

My Early May Day Experience

In my youth we celebrated May Day at school with the erection of a maypole, where us kids got to dance around the center post, while holding the end of a long tassel. The number of boys and girls were equal, as each group danced in opposite directions, weaving their colorful strands as they went. The dance lasted only a few minutes, until the large pieces of ribbon were completely wrapped around the pole.

The place was a public elementary school in the Maryland countryside and this dance was a big deal for us third graders who got to do the dance, for all six grades were let out of class to watch the proceedings. Also, a May King and Queen were chosen from the sixth class. All in all, a very good time was had by all.

As I got older, I moved away and got to live in other parts of the country. During my travels I learned of other people, who had participated in similar May Day festivities, but overall this particular celebration was not a widespread practice.

The Maypole of Merry Mount

In 1842 Nathaniel Hawthorne published a collection of short stories, called Twice Told Tales. One of those tales was titled The Maypole of Merry Mount, a spirited account of conflict between Puritans and a group of slightly less religious souls, who lived in a nearby village. The central point of contention here was a marriage between a young man and woman. The wedding celebration included much feasting and dancing, but was rudely interrupted by a group of Puritans, who demand that all the participants (except the bride and groom) be whipped.

Before being shipwrecked the SS Minnow sent out a Mayday distress signal, but know one responded
Before being shipwrecked the SS Minnow sent out a Mayday distress signal, but know one responded

How Mayday Became A Distress Symbol

In the nautical world, the distress signal, Mayday, is always repeated three times. Like this, Mayday….Mayday…….Mayday. It has nothing to do with the first day of the fifth month. Instead, the word is derived from the French expression, m’aider, which translates to “Help Me!”

 

 

 

 

Oglethorpe’s Savannah

Telfair Museum In Savannah, Georgia
Telfair Museum In Savannah, Georgia

This past Saturday I had the privilege of visiting the charming Southern city of Savannah, Georgia. The occasion was the 4th Annual Savannah Book Festival, which was held at Telfair Square in the old historic district. Here in the historic district of the city, organizers had arranged literary speakers to give talks not only at the above pictured Telfair Museum, but also at the Trinity Methodist Church, Jepson Museum and a tent that was set up on the public square. Also on the square were a couple of book tents, where visitors could purchase both fiction and non-fiction titles.

Besides from the gathering of readers and writers, there was also the walk through the old city from my streetside  parking spot to the festival site. This stroll was most informative, for it took me right through one of the largest historical districts in the country. Savannah has a most interesting history for it was built in the early years of  the 18th century to give British debtors, a second chance in life.

To understand Savannah, it is necessary to take a look at the city’s founder, James Oglethorpe, a British citizen, who was born in 1696. James Oglethorpe served in Queen’s Anne War, returned home and was incarcerated in a British prison for killing a man in a brawl. After five months of confinement, Oglethorpe was released from jail and immediately elected to Parliament. His prison experience became paramount it the man’s successful attempt to recommend changes for the system. Of utmost concern was the British custom of imprisoning those who went bankrupt.

Savannah, which was begun as a British settlement in 1733, was created to give those imprisoned for debt a second chance in life. From this unusual beginning arose a prosperous city, which has survived the tests of time, and remains an important place of commerce today.

Savannah Today
Savannah Today