Saturday, 1 May 2010

MAY DAY 2010

“He that is in a town in May loseth his spring.” - George Herbert

Happy May Day! The celebration of May Day dates back to ancient times and like many ancient festivals it has a Pagan connection. For the Druids of the British Isles, the first of May was the second most important holiday of the year, as the festival of Beltane was observed then. It was thought that this day divides the year into half. The other half was marked by Samhain on November 1st.

In ancient times, the predominant May Day custom was the setting of the New Fire. It was one of the ancient New Year rites performed throughout the world. The fire itself was thought to give life to the burgeoning springtime sun. Cattle were driven through the fire to purify them. Men with their sweethearts passed through the smoke for good luck.

When the Romans occupied the British Isles, the beginning of May was devoted primarily to the worship of Flora, the goddess of flowers. It was in her honour that a five-day celebration, called the Floralia, was held. The festival would start on April 28 and end on May 2. Gradually the rituals of the Floralia were added to those of the Beltane. The day became associated with fertility rites and the maypole became associated with this aspect of the celebration. Trees have always been the symbol of the great vitality and fertility of nature and were often used at the spring festivals of antiquity. The maypole is a stylised tree and is an obvious phallic symbol.

The election of a May Queen is also a May Day tradition. When the sun rose, the maypole was decked with leaves, flowers and ribbons while dancing and singing went on around it. The Queen was chosen from the pretty girls of the village to reign over the May Day festivities. Crowned on a flower-covered throne, she was drawn in a decorated cart by young men or her maids of honor to the village green. She was set in an arbour of flowers and often the dancing was performed around her, rather than around the Maypole. The May Queen may have been a personification of Flora, the Roman goddess.

May Day observance was discouraged by the Puritans. Though the holiday was revived when the Puritans lost power in England, it didn’t have the same robust force. Gradually, it came to be regarded more as a day of joy and merriment for the kids, rather than a day of observing the ancient fertility rites.

May 1st, International Workers' Day, commemorates the historic struggle of working people throughout the world, and is recognised in most countries. The USA and Canada are among the exceptions. This is despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the holiday began in the 1880s in the USA, linked to the battle for the eight-hour day, and the Chicago anarchists. May Day is celebrated as Labour Day in most countries around the world, including the United Kingdom. It was officially proclaimed and endorsed by the Soviet Union as the Day of the International Solidarity of Workers.

For May Day, a beautiful Brazilian song sung by the incomparable Elis Regina. It is called “Vento de Maio”, or “May Wind”. My (very bad) translation follows, but I don’t speak Portuguese…

Vento de Maio

Vento de raio
Rainha de maio
Estrela cadente

Chegou de repente
O fim da viagem
Agora já não dá mais
Pra voltar atrás

Rainha de maio
Valeu o teu pique
Apenas para chover
No meu pique-nique

Assim meu sapato
Coberto de barro
Apenas pra não parar
Nem voltar atrás

Rainha de maio
Valeu a viagem
Agora já não dá mais...

Nisso eu escuto no rádio do carro a nossa canção
(Vento solar e estrelas do mar)
Sol girassol e meus olhos ardendo de tanto cigarro
E quase que eu me esqueci que o tempo não pára nem vai esperar

Vento de maio
Rainha dos raios de sol
Vá no teu pique
Estrela cadente até nunca mais
Não te maltrates
Nem tentes voltar o que não tem mais vez

Nem lembro teu nome nem sei
Estrela qualquer lá no fundo do mar
Vento de maio rainha dos raios de sol

Rainha de maio valeu o teu pique
Apenas para chover no meu pique-nique
Assim meu sapato coberto de barro
Apenas pra não parar nem voltar atrás

May Wind

Wind of sunrays
May Queen, you’re a
Shooting star.

The end of the journey
Suddenly arrived;
Now there's no more
Going back

May Queen
Thanks for your rejection,
It caused it to rain
On my picnic.

So that my shoes were
Covered in mud,
Just so that I won’t stop
Or go back.

May Queen
It was worth the trip,
Now there's more...

I listen to our song on the car radio
(Solar wind and sea stars)
Sunflower sun and my eyes burning with too many cigarettes,
And I almost forgot that time will not stop or wait for us.

May wind
Queen of sunshine
Go to your shipwreck,
Catch shooting stars no more;
Don’t force it,
Don’t try to return to what once was.

I do not remember your name,
I do not know
Any star there on the seabed
Wind of May,
Queen of sunshine.


  1. May 1st, International Workers' Day, commemorates the historic struggle of working people throughout the world. Quite rightly too.

    But apart from the shared date, is there any connection between International Workers' Day on one hand and fertility rites, may poles and pretty may queens on the other?

    I remember in primary school in the early 1950s having a maypole with coloured silk streamers and dancing girls. But the politics were so right wing back then :(

  2. Oh what a beautiful song!!!!! thanks for providing the translation of the lyrics. They are really beautiful!!!!

  3. It would seem to me that a holiday not associated with religious observances, and which was simply one where everyone went out into the fields and had fun (fertile or otherwise) would be directly associated with the poor workers who could have the day off and enjoy themselves.

    Fantastic song! I love Eiis Regina, and thanks for the translation. You are doing well if you can translate without speaking Portuguese!