May 1: May Day
Ancient spring rites that related human fertility to crop fertility gave birth to most modern May Day festivities. May 1 is the traditional day to crown the May queen, dance around the maypole, perform mummers’ plays, and generally celebrate the return of spring. Although our Pilgrim fathers were horrified by these reminders of a pagan past and outlawed all such activities, the maypole dance remains an enduring event. In Great Britain, the custom of “bringing in the May” involves gathering “knots,” or branches with buds, on the eve or early morning of May 1. In England, a favorite branch is hawthorn. In Scotland and Wales, people choose the rowan, or mountain ash. In North America, we often select forsythia, lilac, or pussy willow branches to bring spring and the prospect of new life into our homes.