May Celebrations that Range from Fun to Revolutionary

Humans have celebrated May for centuries.

Thank the Lord, it’s May! Pack up your winter coats and open up the windows! If you feel like celebrating the arrival of spring, you’re not alone. Historically, cultures across the world have celebrated May. The earliest recorded celebrations date back to Ancient Rome, where springtime revelers honored the Roman Goddess of flowers by competing in games and pelting each other with beans. Fun.

Ancient Gaelic people rejoiced in the lengthening days with ceremonies involving sacred fires, which could be jumped over to protect one’s cheese from fairies. Again, fun.

In Medieval Europe, knights and ladies danced around a Maypole decorated with ribbons and streamers. There was some fertility-related symbolism in all this, so it may have been fun but was also a little scandalous. With the Christianizing of Europe, May Day celebrations evolved into a day a devotion for the Virgin Mary. Statues of the Virgin were and still are crowned with flowers. As of 1955, May 1st is also the Church’s Feast Day for St. Joseph, Mary’s spouse. St. Joseph’s feast day was moved to May 1st in response to American May Day celebrations.

In America during the late 1800s, May Day became a celebration of workers. Unionized laborers went on strike for better working conditions and shorter work days. Peaceful protests eventually erupted into violence riots that caught the world’s attention. May 1st gradually grew into an international workers day. Unfortunately, the celebrations were hijacked by communists and other radical causes. Not fun. This is why Grover Cleveland chose to move America’s May Day to September, Labour Day, and why Pope Pius XII chose to move the feast day of St. Joseph the worker to May 1st.

So now you know you can celebrate May several ways: throw some beans, jump a fire, pole dance, have a solemn religious ceremony or overthrow the establishment. May is a very confusing time of the year. 

Brian Rutter, PhD, is the cofounder of Thing in a Pot Productions and a postdoctoral researcher in plant biology at Indiana University. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive our “Things About Things – Odd Facts About Plants” and video production tips in your inbox every month!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.