Way Into May

MayHappy May Day! Sing with me:

The merry maids a Maying went one morning bright and early.
The flowers were blooming, grass was green, the dew drops bright and pearly!

What?

You don’t know that song?

It’s a classic over 150 years old!

Well, it is specific to a little Cache Valley community’s May Day celebration, and pretty cheesy, so I can see why it hasn’t gone mainstream.

May Day isn’t well known or commonly celebrated in Utah, which I learned the hard way in my childhood when my family moved here from the Midwest. On the first day of May in the Midwest we filled Dixie cups with candy and freshly picked flowers to deliver around the neighborhood. We’d ring doorbells and give goodies and greetings of, “Happy May Day!” We wore crowns of dandelion chains on our heads and danced in circles singing the songs of spring we’d learned in school.

When we moved to Utah we naively assumed this was a national thing, so on May 1st we filled cups and rang doorbells spouting spring greetings to confused new neighbors who were skittish about letting their children play with us after that. I was sad giving up my May Day ways, but it wasn’t recognized in our area and we wanted friends so we absolved our observance. Then, as luck would have it, about thirty years later I ended up settling my own family in the only Utah community to celebrate May Day.

May Day has its roots in paganism, so its observance in many European cultures was eventually overshadowed by Christian holidays. However, some cultures—mostly northern European—continued the tradition by converting the holiday from religious to a secular celebration of spring. As these Europeans immigrated to America they began May Day celebrations in their new settlements, which is the case of the largely northern European ancestry of the Midwest, and my quaint Cache Valley hamlet of Mendon.

For 152 years now citizens of Mendon have gathered in the town square on the first Saturday in May to welcome spring with the crowning of a young woman as the Queen of May. Then little girls in matching home-sewn dresses and flowers in their hair sing and dance as they weave brightly colored ribbons around the Maypole. The display is lovely—like a scene out of time.

Granted, because it’s an old tradition the music and prose of the presentation are antiquated, but still sweet. There have been many efforts in heated town meetings to modernize the tradition, but they’ve been shot down by blue-blooded Mendonites who fight to hold on to their heritage.

Yeah, it’s kinda corny watching a 17-year-old boy sporting a heavily-gelled faux hawk, dressed in a tuxedo and Converse high-tops recite the words to crown the new May Queen, “Kind friends, we have met this lovely day to welcome again the spring. The fairies are calling for someone to reign over all this springtime array. So now we must crown our Queen of May!” but in a world of frantic, constant change it’s nice for a few things to stay the same for 150 years. Mendon is way into May and, though a community transplant, I side with the fairies.

 

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