Tuesday, May 3, 2011

In The Merry Month of May

by Susanne Dietze

Ah, May Day. In my childhood, it was the ultimate day for a legitimate game of Doorbell Ditch.

Image by Barbara KB via Flickr
On May first, I’d weave baskets out of construction paper, fill them with blooms from my yard, and place them on neighbors’ porches. Then I’d ring the doorbell and run away, hoping my neighbor would enjoy my gift. (The widower next door was tolerant, if not jubilant, in regards to my attention.)

Maybe I was alone in my observance of May Day. It certainly wasn’t a huge thing in my town—no folk festivals or anything—but our elementary school owned a maypole, which made its annual appearance at the sixth grade folk-dance performance. With polka music blaring from the loudspeakers, the kids each took hold of a pastel streamer and wove over and under each other around the pole. The effect of plaited streamers and rosy-cheeked kids was charming, in my young opinion.

Maypoles at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania
I later learned that Maypoles, just like a lot of American customs, are rooted in pre-Christian traditions. Unlike other holidays, however, May 1st was a day to celebrate spring, life, and romance.

The Romans honored Flora, goddess of flowers, with a five-day festival in late April. The tradition spread to the British Isles, but already, the Celts marked roughly the same period as celebratory. May 1st was considered the first day of summer, fallingl halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice (Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream took place on the solstice, what we now consider to be the first day of the season).  And summer was a reason to party.

And boy, most of Europe celebrated, from England to Germany to Sweden. Many villages elected a flower-crowned May Queen, an unmarried young woman to symbolically rule over the coming harvest. Elizabethan-era diarist Henry Machyn records seeing a lord and lady of the May one “jolly May Day,” along with drums, speeches, and morris dancers.

Lily of the Valley, May's official flower
The advent of summer seemed a good time to make marriages, too. What’s more romantic than “bringing in the may” with a handsome suitor? Gathering greens and flowers was only done by single folks in some parts of medieval Europe, and it no doubt provided a chance for romance to blossom alongside the wildflowers. Maypoles, too, were the domain of marriageable young folk. May Day baskets must have been, as well, because if you were caught dropping one off, you owed the person who caught you a kiss. (I am thankful I never knew this as a child.)

European settlers brought these traditions with them to America—even on the Mayflower. Gradually, most customs faded or, like the symbols of baby chicks and bunnies, became incorporated into the most glorious celebration of life in history: Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus is the greatest gift we'll ever receive, but God still showers us with additional blessing upon blessing on top of the gift of His Son. Spring is another of His gifts, I believe--a reminder that He is the giver of life and He takes pleasure in the beauty of His creation. He who makes all things new has provided vivid illustrations to underscore His point: leaves unfurling, baby birds hatching, tomatoes ripening on the vine.

I think God knows how much I need spring, too. When the gray fog of winter gives way to blue skies and the first daffodils push through the ground, my energy swells. I paint my toenails, visit the farmer’s market, and spend more time outdoors. Today I’ve watered seedlings, adjusted sweet peas on their trellises, and anxiously checked on the mama hummingbird nesting outside my front window.

I feel healthier. When spring comes, I even feel like cleaning. Well, for about five minutes. But that’s five minutes' more enthusiasm than I had in February. I can totally understand my ancestors’ appreciation for May Day.

So consider this my virtual May Day gift to you. I’ve rung your doorbell, and sitting on your welcome mat is a poorly constructed basket of good wishes and your favorite flowers. Happy May, and Happy reminder that God, the giver of life, is busy and active in His world.

What flowers are in your virtual May basket?

Susanne Dietze has written love stories set in the nineteenth century since she was in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others to the glory of God. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and spending time with family and friends. Her work has finaled in the 2010 Genesis Contest, the 2009 Gotcha! Contest, and the Touched By Love Contest, 2008 and 2009. You can visit her on her personal blog, Tea and a Good Book, http://www.susannedietze.blogspot.com/.

Unless noted, photos are courtesy of www.wikipedia.com


  1. I saw someone point out on facebook today that both Hitler and Bin Laden died on May day. Coincidence?

  2. Susie, this brings back memories for me. Not of celebrating May Day, but of wishing to celebrate it. I had always heard of the basket of flowers and May pole tradition, but never lived where they celebrated it. So yes, I'll accept your basket of flowers. Wildflowers would be just lovely, thank you.

  3. Happy May Day! Looks like it'll be a warm day at my house. Hooray! I'm ready for a decent run of sunshine.

    Switching gears without a smooth segue...Dina, that's creepy! I didn't realize that. Hmm.

  4. Suzie, I never got to dance around the maypole, either. I always thought they were so pretty.

    I've decided to use paper cones for your virtual may baskets because I'm just not crafty. But I love your wildflowers, Suzie!

    Mine will have sweet peas, I think. The sweet peas in my yard haven't bloomed yet. The snails love them and it's a constant battle. Where did all of these snails come from?

  5. I love hydrangea and wisteria. So, so pretty, my favorites since forever. Even had them at my wedding. Posies for everyone!

  6. You have snails, I have worms. And no sunshine, either. It's been cold so long, the spring leaves are already turning gold like they think its fall instead of spring. Its so sad.

  7. Were they in your bridal bouquet, Lisa? Gorgeous.

    Hydrangeas are one of my favorites, too. I've tried to grow them with little success. We used to have wisteria outside my daughter's window and when it bloomed, the visual impact was glorious. Smelled good, too :-) The prettiest black bees were attracted to it, and I loved watching them.

  8. Oh Suzie, that's horrible! I would be more than a little depressed at the prospect of foliage skipping spring and summer and shooting straight to fall. I wish I could bottle some of our sunshine and send it to you.

  9. That would be stupendously awesome, Susie. If you could just slide some in with the flowers.

    I agree, Lisa. Your wedding must have been lovely.

  10. I love roses best; but for May Day I'll choose violets; because mayflowers are just a little too quiet. :)

  11. Suzie, you get an extra large virtual basket today to accommodate all of the sunflowers I'm sending your way!

  12. Hi Cheryl! Thanks for coming by. I love violets, too--so dainty and elegant. But when it comes to my gardening skills, my roses do fairly well. I have twelve rose bushes and I wish I had more. They're hearty, my brown thumb doesn't kill them, and I love how they look and smell.

    So everyone gets an extra rose today.

    I found a "Diana, Princess of Wales" rose variety last year and am still kicking myself because I didn't buy it. We bought "Abraham Lincoln" instead (it really is a nice red color, and it was a LOT cheaper than the Diana rosebush, but still...)

  13. We are pretty short on blossoms right now--I think we have Suzie's climate permanently.

    I loved the information on MayDay and am sorry to say I never did experience the may pole tradition. Perhaps someone can also fill me in on why MAY DAY is a cry of impending disaster such as your engines just got blasted off your aircraft...

    I believe Thomas Hardy used the May Day celebration in Tess of the D'Urbevilles and the movie adaptations have used that scene nicely.
    (I'll have to ask Gnorman about that, Susie)

    Thanks for a spring treat in the middle of very cloudy weather!

  14. Hi Deb! I admit that I do not know why pilots in trouble cry May Day. I also decided to leave out all of the labor-related May Day stuff. But now I'm going to have to find out about the May Day lingo--it's too intriguing to pass up.

    May Day offers a great romantic setting to a story, doesn't it? I can't wait to use it in a story.

    Tell me what Gnorman has to say and hang in there. Sun is coming.

  15. Ok, Deb. Looks like the "mayday" distress call comes from the French, "venez m'aider," meaning "come help me." The call is repeated 3 times to distinguish it from calls *about* the distress call itself.

  16. Interesting post. Better make my flowers silk. Fresh flowers in the room are sure to bring on the allergies!

    I'm not all that familiar with the May Day traditions. I do remember walking around a maypole in elementary school. But I had no idea why.

    Don't laugh, but when I hear May Day, I think of hockey. In 2006, a certain player scored a game-winning goal to propel the Sabres unexpectedly to the next round of the playoffs. His name was Brad May, and a popular announcer went wild calling "May Day." It is called the May Day game to this day, even though it happened in April. Oddly enough, it was the first hockey game I'd ever attended.

    Of course, I don't know what that has to do with flowers.

  17. Great post Susie! For a purely virtual basket I've got Tulips and Roses of all different colors>

  18. Oh, I'd better get some silk flowers, too, Barb. My allergies are horrible right now.

    Your hockey story is great! Funny how nicknames get started.

  19. It's wonderful to see you, Jillian.

    Congratulations on your book release TODAY! What a joy! I'm absolutely delighted for you and can't wait to read the rest of the book (I've had peeks of the first chapter!).

  20. I ditto the congrats, Jilly!

    Did you all notice how we all picked different flowers?

  21. You're right, Suzie! It's like a flower shop, without the high prices and allergic reactions!

    Here's hoping you get some sunshine in your neighborhood SOON.

  22. What a great post, Susie! I'll leave the flowers to your choosing!

  23. This time of year it's all about my purple and red tulips and my purple hyacinths!

    can't wait for your upcoming visit!

  24. Hi Karl! Thanks for coming by today.

  25. Hyacinths are so sweet, Deb. And their duration is so brief around my house, so I try to enjoy them while they're here. Same with tulips. I had pretty orange striped ones this year.

  26. Wonderful post! My special May flower is Lily of the Valley - the flowers I carried at my wedding.

  27. Thank you, Susie! May flowers - what a novelty this year. When I lived in the Ottawa Valley of Ontario, we were at the same longitude as N. California. It showed in our garden seasons. I loved gardening in Zone 5. Out here, we're a 2b. Well, this year, it's more like 2a. I think the Arctic is zone 1. :(

    I love reading your posts because they're filled with hope. Just writing about the little things like the mama hummingbirds let me know I'll have spring too, eventually. :)

    Thanks Susie.

    Anita Mae.

  28. Carla, I love lilies of the valley! They are so delicate and such a pure shade of white. I bet your bouquet was gorgeous.

  29. Oh Anita, 2b? What's your temperature today? I'm almost ashamed to tell you what it is at my house. We had Open House at one of the kids' schools last night and it was quite warm in the library. I'm sending some your way :-)

    Thanks for the kind words about hope. It's something I have to cultivate sometimes. I keep a gratitude journal and practice acknowledging God's gifts.

    Funny about Mama Hummingbird. I love peeking in on her, but I realized today that one of these days, she and her (unhatched) babies will fly away. I felt sad! But it's what they're supposed to do. So I'm going to enjoy them while they're here.


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