Friday, May 1, 2020

MAY TIDINGS: Celebrate spring with centuries old tradition

  In Denmark the Maypole tradition is all but extinct.  Originally, a real tree was used as dancers greeted the spring.
 Happily, we found a Maypole where the tradition is still observed, last spring south of Funen in Denmark.

May Day is celebrated in this popular London pub, by bringing baskets outside
and arranging more flowers inside. The baskets will remain through summer.




SO MUCH has changed since last May Day.  We celebrated the holiday in Denmark, then toured the Baltic and other countries of Northern Europe.  We looked forward to treasured time in Montana with family and friends, and back in southern California, went about our busy routine of plays, concerts,
This May Day basket carries spring flowers, and is left
on the door of a friend, a custom dating back centuries.
Bruce Keller photographed this bottle
brush bloom today in La Jolla, Calif.
Have a happy blooming May Day! 
fund raisers, dinners out.
We didn't realize how critical to our sanity  were those pleasures --the treasured holidays, and the  discipline of working on our shared and separate projects.
Hawaii's Botanical Garden
IN THE last spring of her life, my mother and I remembered the May Day baskets she supervised when we were kids. Under her artistic tuteledge, we cut colored construction paper into four sides and stapled the pieces together, then made handles of strings of doubled ribbon. We put stickers on the baskets, filled them with candy and flowers, placed them on our neighbors' doorsteps or hung from the door knob, rang the bell -- then ran.
Such innocent, sweet fun.
 Thousands demonstrated in Istanbul's Taksim Square.
THROUGH THE years, various events and situations gave May Day new meaning. Besides a time to welcome the change of season (spring in the Northern Hemisphere, autumn in the Southern), the day became associated with workers and labor.
Butchart Gardens for May Day
In the 19th century, particularly in western countries, the day came to represent labor movements for workers rights.  In the U.S., May Day demonstrations resulted in the eight-hour work day. We've photographed May Day demonstrations in Cairo, Istanbul and Athens, and because Keller and I have such happy memories
Our garden boasts an array of
blooms this spring. These are
"basket bound" for an elderly pal.
of making May Day baskets as kids, we are making one this year, both to remind of our childhood days and take our minds off Covid.
Although it's too early for hollyhocks in
Montana, there are jonquils and tiny
blossoms on the hillsides, and this photo

from last summer to remind of our home.
 WHILE WE are cutting and stapling, we're playing an audio tape about the history of the holiday, always celebrated on May 1.
May Day goes back to Roman times as a festival of flowers.  Even then, people made small baskets filled with treats or flowers to give secretly to friends and neighbors, just as we did in the 1950s. 
Beltane in Edinburgh means a large bonfire and offerings
of food and drink to the fairies, all "good witches." 
In Germanic countries, the Festival of Flora, the Roman Goddess of flowers is celebrated. Were it not for
Covid, our English cousins would be celebrating May Day, too, crowning a May Queen and having a dance around the maypole, as our Scandinavian cousins would be doing.
A windy sail last May Day off the coast of Funen.
THE EARLIEST May Day documentation I could find predates Christianity. In  Pagan cultures, the tradition of the Celtic celebration of Beltane is celebrated today, a holdover from Pagan times. Most pagan celebrations were either abandoned or evolved into Christian holidays during the conversion of Europe. For my cousins in Edinburgh and Dublin, Beltane remains a day of celebration. Some claim to be Wiccans and consider themselves "good witches. The fire they light today celebrates Beltane and honors fertility and abundance, of special significance to Wiccans.
My friends take part in the same customs their ancestors did, making offerings to the fire of food and drink for the "aos si" -- elves or fairies. Pronounc it "ees shee," or the older Celtic form  "ays sheeth-uh," the term for a supernatural race in both Irish and Scottish mythology.
WHATEVER your pleasure or belief, enjoy the day.

The ruins of Guatemala's proud Mayan culture await next week.

UP NEXT: Readers are wondering when they'll be back on the road with our columns and we're asking ourselves the same question: when will we be traveling again? We'll resume our regular travel columns next week, on May Day, with a visit to magnificent Mayan ruins in Guatemala, a trip we took just before Covid halted our travel -- and yours. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us  Fridays for a fresh look at travel, nature, food, the arts and more:


  1. Barcelona Art FansMay 2, 2020 at 8:07 AM

    Fun read. Great photos and well done history highlights. Most enjoyable.

  2. Florida Fun SeekersMay 2, 2020 at 2:37 PM

    Love the way you tied the celebrations together with labor and pagan fun. Great job on an engaging read, plus terrific photos

  3. Thanks for cheering us up on a dreary day here in Scotland. Spring is coming, we're told. You put us in the mood.