Wednesday, 12 May 2010
In pre-Christian Britain, May Day divided the year into half and was called Beltane. People lit bonfires which were danced around and cattle and young couples passed through the flames to be purified. These rituals were meant to give strength to the spring sun beginning to warm the earth for next year’s crops. In early May, the Romans had a five-day celebration of spring, known as the Floralia, to worship the goddess of flowers. Today, many customs associated with May Day are a combination of Beltane and Floralia: the Maypole (a fertility symbol) and the crowning of a May Queen (the goddess Flora).
In the eighteenth century in France, the May Tree became the “Tree of Liberty” and the symbol of their revolution. May Day went international and took on a secular form. It was the struggle to win the fight for an 8-hour day that resulted in the first May Day parade in Chicago in 1886. Three years later, French socialists declared 1 May “Labour Day”.
There are at least two short stories with this day at their heart: F Scott Fitzgerald’s “May Day” which uses the May Day riots of 1919 to intertwine the lives of drunken socialites and brawling soldiers. In “May Day Eve”, the writer Nick Joaquin shows the oppression of Filipino women who were forced to marry men against their will.
Stay tuned . . .