Thursday, 1 May 2014

MAY DAY 2014

“May you live as long as you wish and love as long as you live.” - Robert A. Heinlein

On this day, young people used to rise well before sunrise and go out in the countryside to gather May.  May is any kind of blossom and greenery, but especially hawthorn blossom (May-blossom), birch or rowan. Sloe or blackthorn are avoided as they are ill-omened.  To leave a branch of May-blossom on a friend’s door is compliment and will bring them luck.  

Good morning, Mistress and Master,
I wish you a happy day;
Please to smell my garland
‘Cause it is the First of May.
A branch of may I have brought you,
And at your door I stand;
It is but a sprout, but it’s well sprouted out,
The work of our Lord’s hand.

However, other gifts can be insulting!

Nut for a slut; plum for the glum;
Bramble if she ramble; gorse for the whore.

In Greece, May is symbolised by a bunch of wild Spring flowers gathered in the morning and brought home. A May wreath is then made and it adorns the front door of the house.  The wreath is left to dry on the door, not to be taken down until Midsummer’s Day when it is ritually burnt in St John’s Fires.

The Roman festival, the Floralia held in the honour of the Spring goddess Flora was held between the 28th of April and the 3rd of May every year.  Flora was the goddess of all flowering plants and a fertility figure. Her festival in ancient Rome was one of government-sanctioned licentiousness and promiscuity. It began on with a play figuring naked actresses who acted out fertility rites with obscene dances and gestures. Games followed with the capturing of fertile animals such as goats and hares with ribald songs and dances in the streets. As the festival developed, young men erected poles and trees outside the house of their favoured women. These were the precursor of the Maypoles, evident phallic symbols. May Day festivities that are still celebrated today are a vestige of the Roman Floralia.

The Maypole is a tradition in many countries and is a relic of a fertility ritual where the Maypole has phallic associations.  It is a tall pole adorned with greenery and all kinds of flowers. Ribbons are fixed to the top and hang down to the ground.  Men and women each take hold of a ribbon and proceed to dance around the pole to the strains of joyful music.

Here is Thomas Morley’s “Now is the Month of Maying” with the Cambridge Singers conducted by John Rutter.  Thomas Morley (1557 or 1558 -- October 1602) was an English composer, theorist, editor and organist of the Renaissance, and the foremost member of the English Madrigal School. He was also involved in music publishing, holding a printing patent in the period up to his death. Based in London, where he was organist at St Paul’s Cathedral, he was the most famous composer of secular music in Elizabethan England. He and Robert Johnson are the composers of the only surviving contemporary settings of verse by Shakespeare.

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