May is one of my favorite months. Besides being the month of my birth, it is also home to May Day (my second favorite celebration of the month), Memorial Day, Cinco de Mayo, International Workers Day, and of course, Mother’s Day. With so many celebrations, where does one begin? Well, in the words of Julie Andrews, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” (are you singing yet??)
May Day:While, unfortunatley, a far overlooked holiday in the states, the first day of May is what’s termed a cross-quarter day…meaning that it falls approximately halfway between an equnox and a solstice. In ealier times, it was considered to be the first days of summer. It’s origins take root in many countries in Europe, such as Scotland, Ireland, and the upper Baltic states. While each country has a particularly unique way of celebrating this day, many of the countries also share silimiar traditions. Some of the common activities include dances (yes, around a “maypole”), special musical performances, songs, and traditional foods. At a local Waldorf school here in Seattle, they attended a mid-day festival full of singing and dancing. Many of the children and parents were adorned with crowns and tiaras made of flowers, grapevines, and ivy. Other places in America, people filled “May baskets” with flowers and small treats to be left anonomsly on someone’s doorstep. Tradition has it that if you are caught leaving the basket, you owe the “catcher” a kiss! No matter what the tradition is, the people that gather are taking time to celebrate the return of warmth, of light, and in many places….green 🙂
International Workers Day: Also on the first of May, International Workers Day is a day to celebrate the social achievements of the international labor movement. It is also a day to bring awareness to the host of labor battles that still need to be fought. In America, it marks the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Square Bombings . Considered a “massacre”, it was on this day that the Chicago police force took the lives of dozens of activists that were on strike, demanding an 8 hour workday. Although Labor Day is traditionally celebrated in America in September, it was out of a fear of riots that President Cleveland moved it the following year. Many countries around the world, however, still celebrate it on the first of May with thousands of demonstrations taking place each year.
Cinco de Mayo: The fifth of May is a regional Mexican war holiday often mistakenly thought to be Mexico’s Independence Day. While the actual date of Mexican Independence is September 15th, 1810, it was on May 5, 1862 when a Mexican army of 4,000 claimed victory over an even larger number of French forces, that had not been defeated in over 50 years. It was General Seguin that led the Mexican army in what is known as the Battle of Puebla. When the battle was over, and the French were dispelled, making them not only less of a threat to Mexico, but to the US as well. Viva!
Mothers Day: While this date need no introduction, it is typically is celebrated on the second Sunday of May. In ancient times, this day was traditionally set aside as a day to worship female goddesses. However, even the more “modern” celebration of mothers dates all the way back to antiquity. The first North American Mother’s Day was conceptualized with Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870. Howe had become so distraught by the death and carnage of the Civil War that she called on mother’s to come together and protest what she saw as the futility of their sons killing the sons of other mothers. With the following, she called for an international Mother’s Day celebrating peace and motherhood. It took over 40 years for the first state to adopt this day as a holiday, and my has it blossomed since then! While Mother’s Day is celebrated in over 40 countries around the world, each with their own traditions and date (not all of them are in May), not all of them spend nearly what the United States does, where it is a 14 billion dollar industry. In some countries, like Sweden, their is an emphasis on giving to charity, not just to moms.
Memorial Day: It is on this day, the last Monday in May, where we honor all those who have given their lives fighting for the United States. Originally known as Decoration Day, it began in 1868 as a day to honor the sacrifices made by those during the Civil War. Those honoring the dead would actually “decorate” the graves of those who had fallen. For the next 100 years, there were arguments as to who the day should honor and what day it should be, but in 1971, Congress declared the last Monday of May an official holiday, as a tribute to those who died in all of America’s wars.
Any days I missed??