May Day, May 1st, is such a forgotten holiday in America. A good pagan holiday that couldn’t keep up with the times.
My parents had little to say about the holiday. Coming off the Great Depression and then a World War, I can appreciate they didn’t find the day special. I recall, when I carried home from school the news that the day was May Day, a bitter remark from my father that the day had been co-opted by the communists for International Workers’ Day
May Day had a place in school, nevertheless. I attended the same elementary school for all those seven years from kindergarten through sixth grade. We had a May Day celebration, organized by one of the sixth grade teachers. Every year the sixth grade girls danced around the May Pole. I wonder if it was the dream of every girl watching on the play ground to be one of the dancers.
Miss Horning, the mistress of the dance, tried so hard to keep “the gentle arts” alive. There was a piano in her room, and in my sixth grade year she made me play. My mother played well, we had a piano at home and I was given lessons. I was no good. As I’ve often said, I have a tin ear.
Once a week I had to follow the only other piano player, a girl named Joy, who played quite well, and bumble through the piece Miss Horning selected for me. Miss Horning did not allow me to not play, in spite of my protestations. Eventually I appealed to my mother, who wrote a note to Miss Horning, and my performances were cancelled.
About April Miss Horning assembled the sixth grade girls around the May Pole to practice during recess. The May Pole, I now realize, was the tether ball pole. How did she convince the janitor to substitute ribbons? I cannot imagine. Perhaps Miss Horning taught the dance to more competent students before my time. We just went round and round the pole making a spiral of our ribbons. On May Day we performed for the entire school at a special assembly.
Surely the ceremony was much longer than our short performance of wrapping ribbons around a tether ball pole. That is all I recall.
I loved the May Day celebration we learned in second grade. We wove baskets from paper strips, filled them with daffodils and tulips from the garden, and gave them to our mothers. My mother told me they should be hung on the door knob, then knock and hide and watch the surprise of the recipient. I made another basket for Mrs. Cole. I jumped up and down so from excitement she saw me hiding.
My sister says in her day, ten years later, there was no May Pole. She did remember the flowers; she took hers to Mrs. Rich. I still associate May Day with bouquets of flowers and the May Pole dance in 1955.