Traditionally, May 1 is the day around here, in the highlands of southeastern Kentucky, which permits old and young alike to shuck off their long underwear and pants in favor of shorts and lighter clothing. Also, May Day gives youngsters the green light to take off their shoes and to go barefooted for the remainder of the summer without fear of becoming ill or catching cold.
Celebrated in Ireland since pagan times, traditionally, bonfires were lit on May Day to mark the coming of summer and to banish the long nights of winter. Since the reform of the Catholic Calendar, May 1 is the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the patron saint of laborers. Seeding had been completed by this date and it was convenient to give farm workers a day off. Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the Maypole, around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons.
In some parts of Europe and the United States, May Baskets are made. These are small baskets usually filled with flowers or treats and left at someone’s doorstep. The giver rings the bell and runs away. The person receiving the basket tries to catch the fleeing giver. If they succeed, a kiss is exchanged.
Locally, years ago at Harlan Elementary School, May Day was synonymous with “Health Day.” It was a kind of field day for students in grades one through six with all sorts of contests held on the football field in Georgetown.
There was a parade of children in costumes marching enmasse through town accompanied by their teachers. Once on the playing field, three-legged races, potato sack races, relays and jumping contests were conducted. Both boys and girls were eligible to participate and prizes were awarded.
One of the highlights of the day was the weaving and unweaving of the “Maypole.” The dancers practiced for weeks in the gymnasium in order to learn the moves without getting all mixed up. The practice ribbons were strips of muslin; the real satin ribbons were not attached until the day of the event
May Day celebrations and festivities differ throughout the world, however, there is one which is universal. It is the radio-telephone distress signal word used in times of dire emergencies…”May Day!”
Tomorrow might be a good opportunity to visit a neighbor or to offer a wee flower basket in honor of the occasion. If not, perhaps then a smile or just a friendly “hello” would suffice. I hope you enjoy the mountain’s fresh green leaves, dogwoods, redbuds and tulips as May Day heralds the arrival of another summer.