May Day Then And Now

May Pole Today

So happy May Day to you all. May 1st. I think of it as summer’s first day. Sun, warmth, fun. What’s not to like? But, what’s so important about May Day?

May Day’s earliest celebrations were the festival of Flora the Roman flower goddess. During the Roman Republic era it was held slightly earlier, on April 27th. But this day is also linked to the Gaelic Beltane.

Now – for fun – fast forward to the 15th century.

Here you see the merriment nobility enjoyed in May. The beautiful illuminated manuscript Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry’s calendar page pictures a traditional May 1st cavalcade. Young people riding horses preceded by trumpet players. And the ladies carrying foliage or wearing it in their hair. 

More currently – but still over 50 years ago – you find this fun happening.

On May 1, 1966, a student group at the University of California Berkeley held a May Day tournament. It had costumes, sword fighting and the crowning of a “queen of love and beauty”. A one-time fun theme party for invited guests. While nobody then expected any following results this party continues on today.

As long time members know this is how it all began. What we now call the Society for Creative Anachronism basically began as a May Day party.

If you’re curious about its beginnings check out The West Kingdom’s History Project. It gives a fascinating look at how the SCA thing happened.

So May Day’s a traditional spring festival with dancing, singing and flower festivities. Different customs depending where you live and when. For us in the SCA it’s an anniversary. And the day we advance the calendar one year. So Happy Birthday SCAdians. You’re another year older.

Categories: Musings

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