Presently May 2021
As the first day of May dawns, it begins with celebration of May Day that dates back to ancient times. Rich in folklores of maypoles, Morris dancing and May queens, the day is now known as Labour Day or International Workers Day. The day also marks the mid-point to summer in the northern hemisphere, and the beginning of autumn in southern hemisphere. The beautiful month of May ushers in longer and warmer days where the fresh cold winds of winter are gone! With birds chirping, rainbow hues of spring flowers everywhere, and right about the time when delicate, beautiful Lily of the Valleys and Hawthorne adorn the grounds, hopeful of joyful, fun and bbq days ahead 🙂
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About the Month of May
May is the fifth month in the Gregorian Calendar, has thirty-one days and is associated with spring in Northern hemisphere and autumn in Southern hemisphere. May 1st is notable for its May Day celebrations – spring celebrations which has its roots in medieval and astronomy. However, May Day has developed into a celebration of workers day worldwide, popularly known as Labor/Labour Day. The day is a public holiday in European countries, the Russian Federation and in some Asian countries. In USA, Canada and Australia, the date is said to vary.
In UK, the first Monday in May has been a bank holiday in Scotland since 1871. The early bank holiday Monday in May was only introduced to the rest of UK in 1978.
Origins of ‘May’
May is named after the Greek fertility goddess, Maia who was celebrated for the growth of plants. The month is a time for great celebrations in the the northern hemisphere as it is the time of ‘rebirth’ where the flowers begin to bloom and crops begin to sprout.
The Anglo-Saxon called the month of May, ‘Tri-Milchi’ because with the lush new grass meant that the cows could be milked three times a day! The month was first referred as ‘May’ in about 1430s. Prior to this, the month was Maius, Mayes or Mai.
May birthdays fall right in the heart of spring and those born in this special month can proudly call Emerald as their birthstone. Emerald carries a rich green colour of spring and radiates a beautiful and brilliant tone. Emerald, derived from the word “smaragdus,” means, quite literally, “green” in Greek. A symbol of ‘rebirth’. Emerald is believed to grant the owner foresight, good fortune, and youth.
May birth flower
May adorns us with the delicate and sweet scent of Lily of the Valley and Hawthorn as its birth flower. There are many myths and legends surrounding these flowers.
Lily of the Valley
Lily-of the-Valley are one of the most fragrant blooming plants that has been around since at least 1000 B.C. This spring flower is a moisture loving, woodland flowering plant. They are sweetly scented, nodding and bell-shaped white flowers. The stems are of medium bright green. Lily of the Valley flowers grows easily and are native throughout cool temperate northern hemisphere. Red seed pods remains after flowering which makes Lily of the Valley attractive after blooming and very carefree.
With its delicate flowers and sweet scent, Lily of the Valley is a favourite of many. The flowers are a special favourite of royal brides.
There are many myths and legends that surrounds the origins of Lily of the Valley. Here are just two:
Some say that the Lily of the Valley appeared when Eve’s tears fell after she was evicted from the Garden of Eden. Others say that when St Leonard fought a fearless fight against a dragon, the lilies appeared wherever the brave warrior’s blood fell.
The sweetly scented Lily of the Valley is said to symbolise humility, sweetness and the return of happiness – a perfect gift for Mother’s Day should it fall in the month of May.
Hawthorne hedges have been around since Roman times and are a favourite for bees and about three hundred species of insects. They commonly grow freely in hedgerows, woodland and scrubs. While they grow well in most soil, they flower and fruit best in full sun. Hawthorne are also no stranger to gathering numerous folklore and superstitions.
Hawthorne: pale green leaves, pale pink flowers – sign of spring turning to summer.
Hawthorne fruits known as “Haws”
Hawthorne’s pale green leaves are the first to appear in spring with an explosion of pale pink blossoms in May – a sign that spring is turning to summer. Flowers are highly scented, white or occasionally pink with five petals, and grow in flat-topped clusters. Its fruits, once pollinated by insects, develop into deep-red fruits known as ‘haws’.
The myths and legends surrounding Hawthorne are many and here are two:
Hawthorne is a pagan symbol of fertility and associated to May Day since ancient times. It was used as Maypole and its flowers and leaves were used for May Day garlands and wreaths for the Green Man! Hawthorne is also associated with death and must never be brought into the home. It is believed that Hawthorne blossom inside the house will bring about death, illness and grave misfortune. In medieval times, the smell of Hawthorne flowers was equated to the smell of death, the Great Plague.
Having said that, the following is going to make you smile 🙂 – something that is associated with death, Hawthorne timber is used for making cabinets and veneers as well as boxes, tool handles and boat parts. It also makes good firewood and said to burn to high temperatures. As for the young leaves, flower buds and young flowers – they are all edible! They can be added to salads and the developing flower buds are said to be particularly good, though you are not advised to eat the haws.
About ‘May Day’
In UK, as in most parts of western Europe, May Day marks the end of harsh winter months. Although summer does not officially begin until June but May Day has traditionally been noted as the beginning of summer. May Day celebrations in UK has gone on since Roman times for 2000 years. The Romans celebrated the Festival of Flora, goddess of fruit and flower which marked the beginning of summer. The festival was celebrated from April 28 through to May 3.
Origins of May Day
May Day is said to have its roots in astronomy! The ancient Celts believed that May 1 is the half-way point between spring equinox and summer solstice. The solstices and equinoxes were called “Quarter Days” and the mid-points was called “Cross-Quarter Days” marking the beginning of a season. Equinoxes, solstices and cross-quarter days are all points of Earth’s orbit around the sun.
May Day Traditions and Celebrations
Many villages across Britain celebrate the ancient spring May Day festivals of maypole, Morris dancing, music and entertainment.
The Maypole Dance
The Maypole Dance has its origins with ancient Celts. The ancient Celts celebrated ‘Beltane’ to mark the peak of spring and the beginning of summer. The word ‘Beltane’ originates from the Celtic word ‘Bel’, meaning ‘the bright one’ and ‘teine’ from the Gaelic word meaning fire. Together they make ‘Bright Fire’, or ‘Goodly Fire’ and traditionally bonfires were lit to honour the Sun. In ancient times, the Celts also danced around a real tree brought-in from the woods, praying for good crops and fertility. The tall tree (pole) usually garlanded with greenery and flowers and hung with ribbons. These ribbons were woven into complex patterns by the dancers. The dances are part of spring rites to ensure fertility.
For the younger generation, maypole day was a day for courtship. If a couple were paired by sundown, then their courtship would continue for six weeks to get to know each other. They will then marry on Midsummer’s Day in June. Maypoles are still part of some village life and villages dance around it.
In some parts of Britain, May 1st is known as Garland Day. Children from English rural villages would parade with garlands of flowers, sometimes fastened to a stick.
Another tradition that is seen throughout May is Morris Dancing. This is a traditional English form of folk dancing performed by a group of men or women. Morris Dancing has been performed for hundreds of years in villages of rural England and passed down from generation to generation. They wear different colours of clothes depending on which part of the country they come from. There are several thoughts as to its origin and is believed to have originated from the Moors of North Africa. Many different groups perform Morris Dancing at the Medway Sweeps Festival.
Other festivals, traditions and celebrations
Although the May Day celebrations had been observed for centuries, with even Jack-in-the-Green making an appearance in Hastings and May Queen being crowned, but over time, the celebrations have altered from their ancient folk roots, becoming more centred towards their own communities, while still embracing their traditions. If you would like to attend one such festival, look up some of the following best traditional May Day events:
May Day Superstition
First thing in the morning of the 1st day of May, young girls rush out to the garden to wash their face in the morning May dew. The reason being – there is an old tale that says there are magical properties in the May dew, that anyone who washed their face in it will have a beautiful complexion all through the year. This dew is supposed to remove freckles and pimples.
Interesting customs in May
Oak Apple Day
Oak Apple Day or ‘Pinch Bum Day’ takes place on May 29, and is a day where traditionally people wear oak apples or oak leaves pinned to them. This is to remember that on May 29, King Charles II returned safely to London, triumphantly restoring the monarchy in 1660. It became customary for people to wear the oak apple or oak leaves to show support for the King who took refuge in an oak tree, escaping his captors. Until the 20th century, anyone caught not wearing an oak apple or an oak leave could be punished.
Arbor Tree Day
Arbor Day is the last Sunday in May. In Aston-on-Clun, Shropshire, a large tree in the centre of the village is decorated with flags. The flags stay on the tree until the following May.
According to legend, the local landowner, John Marston married on May 29, 1786. He and his bride were passing through the village when the villages were celebrating Arbor Day. His bride thought that the tree looked so beautiful covered in flags that she gave money to the village so the custom would continue. This tradition has been observed today.
Rhymes, Quotes and Sayings about the month of May
The month of May is the pleasant time; its face is beautiful; the blackbird sings his full song, the living wood is his holding, the cuckoos are singing and ever singing; there is a welcome before the brightness of the summer.
In the marvellous month of May when all the buds were bursting, then in my heart did love arise. In the marvellous month of May when all the birds were singing, then did I reveal to her my yearning and longing.
Another May new buds and flowers shall bring: Ah! Why has happiness no second Spring?
Recap of what has been happening since April e-column
With the onset of brighter and warmer days, April was a beautiful month to get out and about, to enjoy the sunshine, exploring local country park and on long walks to burn-off that winter “gain”. It is also time to awaken my favourite friend, Canon that had slept a little while under the silken dust. Somehow, all things seem possible in the month of May.
On the writing front, the Tower of London and related articles on History of Britain series is now complete, for the moment at least and Easy Sunday Read will return in fall, September 5th. There’s more to look forward to on the Tower and History of Britain which I hope to share in the future. April was also a month to catch-up on Europe – more travel inspiration can be found on Amsterdam. In case you missed April’s publications, these are listed below:
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On a final note…
I hope that you have enjoyed reading about the month of May – I certainly enjoyed the research and learning about the superstitions and folklores associated with May. Lily of the Valley is one of my favourite spring flowers but nothing beats the bright daffodils for me! I never knew about the associated tales with Hawthorne and now I do. As the days are longer and warmer, I look forward to weekends with family and friends, BBQ Sundays and red wine – I think it is possible to do all of these this summer.
Whatever you get up to, have a splendid rest of the month of May.
Till next time,
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Presently May 2021 first published at timelesstravelsteps.com