According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the month of May is significant. The Celts traditionally celebrated Beltane on the first of May, later known as May Day: a day half-way between spring and summer which welcomed the return of earthly fertility in the form of flowers. Modern pagans still believe that it is a day when the veil separating them from the spiritual world thins, making May 1st powerful for enchantments, similar to Samhain or Halloween. Northern Europeans still celebrate Walpurgisnacht (also known as Vappu or Walpurgis depending on what country you are from) with dancing, bonfires, and sprigs of tender flowers to ward off “evil” and welcome the sun’s return.
In Wisconsin in 1975, we celebrated May Day by making rough-looking, tenderly-wrought baskets of construction paper filled with colorful candies and maybe a grubby dandelion or two. We’d hang them on the doors of our neighborhood friends and sometimes the doors of elderly people we didn’t know, having witnessed their solitude from a safe distance. My brother Charlie and I would stealthily hang a wide, paper basket-handle over a doorknob, ring the bell, then run like mad to avoid being seen. We overflowed with joy. It was a day similar to Valentine’s, but free from the weight of commitment. We once saw a May Day basket strewn in the middle of the road as we walked up the block to make a delivery. My young heart was struck by the discord between the beauty of the sparkling treasure and the ugly spillage.
May Day is a holiday worthy of reviving here, given the endless winter we have finally escaped, but also because we should always look for opportunities to celebrate metamorphosis. Like a May celebration from a forgotten time, the annual Mayor’s Dance is almost upon us. I know because my daughter is in the eighth grade and she has been anticipating this event since the sixth grade. I wonder if the Mayor knows. For those of you who aren’t parents of middle school girls in Northampton, Massachusetts, I will explain. It is the first real dance of “teenagerhood.” The parameters of this spring rite of passage are shrouded in mystery. The girls speculate amongst themselves about what to wear and rejoice not only that their parents are not coming, but that they aren’t invited. We will drop them off and drive away slowly, wishing we could see more, but knowing it isn’t meant for us. There will be music. There will be dancing. Possibility will swirl in the air; they will smell its scent, but won’t know what it looks like. Not yet. Maybe it is just a dance, but maybe it is a celebration of childhoods deeply felt in a community that embraces its children as we bear witness to the beginnings of their own metamorphoses. They will encounter sparkling “treasure” along the way, and try to make sense of the “ugly spillage.” They will overflow with joy.
Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Your momentous event heralds the advent of new and wonderful things to come. May is the perfect time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Mattison Buhl
As a mother of three, Sarah appreciates the extraordinary beauty of the ordinary. She makes her home with her family in Northampton, MA.
May Day has rich history. Today, a fully celebrated May Day likely includes May baskets filled with flowers, beautifully dressed Morris dancers, and the wrapping of a May pole. Here we have included three upcoming events in Western MA that celebrate May Day, along with ideas on how to celebrate at home and a short recommended reading list…