April 10, 2017

#05-028: MAYDAY!

children holding ribbons run around a pole planted in the ground, in front of a church
Maypole dancing in the U.K.

Note: There seems to be some connection between May Day--the ancient beginning of the northern hemisphere's summer--and honoring the labor of workers.

Get Ready: When do you celebrate Labor Day? What do you do to recognize the importance of workers?

When I was just a boy, we made little baskets (out of construction paper, as I recall) and put small flowers in them. Then on the First of May, we snuck up to a neighbor's door, hung the basket on the doorknob, rang the bell, and RAN! (This same behavior, without the flowers, is a nasty teenaged prank called "Ring-and-Run.")

Little did I realize then that I was participating in one of the most ancient of European festivals. May Day is part of the pagan "Great Wheel of the Year," which is composed of the two solstices and two equinoxes (the "Quarter Days") and the four days halfway between them (the "Cross Quarter Days"), of which May Day is one.

One Cross Quarter Day that is more widely celebrated is Halloween, which is actually the night before All Saints' Day. Just as that is the first day of winter, so May Day is the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere.

In ancient times, it was accompanied by recognitions of, and encouragement to, the fertility of the earth. People danced around a tall, phallic-looking "May Pole," and chose a "Queen of May" from amongst the village maidens. Such practices are being revived in some English towns, with participants dressed in Medieval or Renaissance costumes.


This day was also chosen as "International Workers' Day," sometimes called simply "Labor Day," in many countries, especially those with ties to the Communist form of government. This may be a coincidence--it originated in a labor uprising against management in the United States--but there is a strong tie between production, whether industrial or agricultural.

Confusingly, this is not Labor Day in the U.S. That occurs on the first Monday in September, and is the official end of summer. (The traditional summer season, marked in such fashion changes as men exchanging felt hats for straw and wearing white clothing, ran from Memorial Day--the last Monday in May--to Labor Day.)

So, whence the cry "MAYDAY!" when one is in trouble? It has nothing to do with the month of May. It is in fact derived from m'aidez, French for "Help me!"


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. agricultural
  2. construction paper
  3. equinoxes
  4. fertility
  5. industrial
  6. pagan
  7. phallic
  8. solstices
  9. uprising
  10. whence

  1. the ability to reproduce
  2. a revolt against authority
  3. having to do with farms
  4. non-Christian
  5. shaped like a penis
  6. from where
  7. a heavy colored material used in art projects
  8. the days when the sun is the farthest north or south
  9. having to do with factories
  10. the days when the sun is over the Equator

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 10, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. g; 3. j; 4. a; 5. i; 6. d; 7. e; 8. h; 9. b; 10. f