Mary, Missiles, and Marigolds: What the hell is May Day?
When I was growing up, May Day was very confusing to me. I have a bunch of symbols in my head that are linked to that day but I’m not really sure what was what.
First off I went to Catholic grade school and I remember doing a few things… making paper May baskets in class, making a May pole, and doing a bunch of stuff around the Blessed Virgin Holy Mary Mother of God. (I thought I’d through in all titles) And now my kids have gone to Catholic school, well my son’s all boys Catholic school didn’t give much of a hoot about Mary, but my girls still go to Our Lady of Mercy, and there’s a whole lotta’ Mary goin’ on. As you could imagine.
My girl’s school has a big ole’ May Day ceremony thingy. They select a May Queen and her court. But at their school, they select a girl who has the qualities most like Mary. Yes yes, bring on the Immaculate Conception jokes. But no, it’s a girl that is kind and loving and giving and all that jazz. They wear white and wear flower wreaths on their heads and a priest does some junk. Oh and then outside they have this beautiful grotto with a big statue of Mary, and the girls go out there and adornher and stuff.
So, in Catholicism May is the month of Mary. I couldn’t find any good reason why, other than May 31st is the Commemoration of the Visitation. Which I’m still not really sure what happened. Mary went to visit Elizabeth and they were both pregnant and I guess realized the presence of Jesus or something. Not clear. Anyway, that’ what I can find out about Mary. And now Catholics like to give her statue a crown in May. Ta da!
The May baskets and May pole come from a whole other celebration of May, that of course is always developed from some other ancient Pagan celebration (all holidays usually are) . I’ve seen three different pre-Christianity celebrations cited – Festival of Flora (Roman Goddess of Flowers), the German Walpurgis Night, and the Celtic/Gaelic Beltane. Which are all pretty much celebrations of the arrival of Spring and new life and animals and people gettin’ impregnated and what-not. I remember putting the May baskets on a door knob, ringing the bell and running away. Why, I don’t know. They May pole has no real clear purpose that any historians can agree on. It is Germanic some say a symbol of their revered trees, non-Germanic folks say it’s a phallic symbol. They all crowned a May Queen, usually the prettiest girl in town or something. Maybe that ties together the Virgin Mary-new life-fertility-phalic thing.
Then the other thing I have visions of with May Day is giant military parades in the Soviet Union in the 1970’s when I was a kid. They’d have miles of troops in dress uniform, fancy stepping through Red Square, and tanks and missiles rolling by. Everybody saluted, paid homage, bowed, whatever they do to the Soviet leader. On a side note, I tried to look up what the actual title of Grand Pubah of the Soviet Union was and it changed a lot and the dude would have various different titles at the same time, so the rest of the world just kind of called him “Leader”.
So the Soviet May Day was actually celebrating “International Worker’s Day”, that was started by the Soviets to commemorate the “Haymarket Affair” of 1886 in Chicago. The Haymarket Affair began as a rally of laborer’s supporting those striking to get down to just an 8 hour work day. Some anarchists threw a bomb at police when they were trying to disperse the crowds, a bunch of people died and were wounded. So then why did the Soviets have parades with troops and tanks supposedly celebrating workers? As far as I can tell from research, it was a display of military might to show that “worker make Soviet big and strong”.
And there you have why I remember Mary, missiles, and marigolds. It seems these things always blend together. It’s like “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, you can always find how they some how cross paths. The International Labor Day parades kind of sprung out of May Day anyway, they combined the two parties. They all intertwine. Next time I’ll try to figure out how the Easter Bunny, coloring eggs, and Jesus intersect.
Oh in researching I was trying to figure out a saying my Mother always said “She’s acting like she’s ‘Queen of the May’!” I mean I know it’s from the whole May Queen thing but don’t know where “the May” came from. Anyway… I’m off to be Queen of the May! Enjoy!