From the Desk of Intern Extraordinaire Tara
This Tuesday was May 1, which for thousands of years has been celebrated as May Day. Originating as the pagan festival celebrating the first spring planting, May Day was first celebrated by the ancient Celts and Saxons. They referred to the holiday as Beltane, the day of fire. Festivities began on the eve of May, April 30, and consisted of games and feasts celebrating the end of winter and the return of the sun and the fertility of the soil.
The arrival of Christianity within Western Europe resulted in the Catholic Church outlawing May Day celebrations, but a more secular version of the holiday continues to be observed in Europe and America. In this form, May Day is best known for the traditions of the maypole dance and the crowning of the Queen of the May. The maypole dance is a form of folk dance in which young men and women dance while holding onto ribbons until they became entwined, which was supposed to represent your true love or future spouse. The tradition of the May Queen is said to be based on the Roman goddess Diana, the huntress and goddess of beauty. The May Queen was usually chosen from the local young, unmarried women and crowned with greenery. Many traditions also include a Green Man, May King, or Lord of May to accompany the May Queen. In more modern celebrations, the May Queen wears a white dress, which symbolizes purity, and leads the May Day parade.
Unique to the United States is the tradition of the May basket. Typically, these are small baskets filled with flowers or treats and left at someone’s doorstep. The giver of the basket knocks on the door and runs away. The receiver attempts to catch the fleeing giver and if they are successful a kiss is exchanged. Today, the tradition has been modified and simply includes the leaving of a flower-filled basket on a doorstep. Here at the Hammond-Harwood House, our lovely Board of Trustees member and docent Ann Marie Fox left a beautiful May basket on our front porch. She won a gold ribbon for her stellar work!