May Day goes in lots of different directions: for some (like my friend Eggman), it’s an international holiday commemorating the Haymarket riots in Chicago of 1886 that now honors all laborers and the working classes. For those in peril on the sea or in the air, it’s a universally recognized distress signal. (How did that come about?Apparently, ‘May Day’ is a corruption of the French phrase “M’aidez!” or “Help Me!) To a bell-clad Morris Dancer, May Day means tall maypoles decorated with flowers and long ribbons and another happy pagan reason to celebrate the arrival of spring. Oh—and one more: in case you’re looking for another reason to party, May first is also National Chocolate Parfait Day. Who knew?
The first of May can be moody—the photograph that accompanies this Musing was taken on May 1, 2016—but it can also be bright and sunny, full of promise, and oh-so-colorful, thanks in large part to all those lovely flowers that sprouted during those chilly April showers. May first is our reward for both patience and anticipation: patience (winter is over!), anticipation (summer is here!). As a former student and teacher who spent many years in schools on both sides of the desk, I know that we’re all still kids with an atavistic case of spring fever that always seems to hit at this precious time of year. Kids think “Summer!” but teachers dig a little deeper: May means we’re on the doorstep of June, July, and August, the best three reasons to be a teacher.
Everything seems to be in bud; that’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that pollen drifts down like snow and the sound of sneezing is heard throughout the land—or at least in this part of it. The Mid-Atlantic region and our very own Eastern Shore, in particular, are home to all manner of beautiful flowering trees and shrubs, but all that natural splendor comes at the suffering cost of allergies and hay fever. It’s the price we pay for spring.
If you’re a Taurus or a Gemini, May’s your month. If you’re born in May and like precious stones, emeralds are your thing. If you’re a gardener, think of May’s colorful palette: cornflower blue, peony pink, lily-white, lilac purple, sunflower yellow, and of course, green grass. Come to think of it, I guess it’s time to bring the old lawnmower out of winter retirement. If birdsong comes with May, so does the roar of lawnmowers. Sigh.
May is named for the Greek goddess of fertility, Maia. Anglo-Saxons called May Tri-Milchi, meaning three milks because the grass was so lush and green you could milk your cows three times a day. In Native American culture, May is The Full Flower Moon, the Corn Planting Moon, or the Milking Moon. (I guess Anglo-Saxons and Native Americans have more in common than I realized!)
If you want to maintain youthfulness or enhance your natural beauty, legend has it that you should wash your face with dew collected on the morning of the first day of May. If you missed that chance, put a note on your calendar for next year. Don’t worry: you’re beautiful just the way you are!
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.