Friday, May 1, 2009

Everything you ever wanted to know about May Day but were afraid to ask

Here is a photo taken in 1907 of May Day festivities in Maryland.

More information about May Day than you ever thought possible can be found in this article from Wikipedia, including May Day’s relationship to Walpurgis Night and Morris dancing and the May Queen and the Maypole (not to be confused with the Walpole) and even International Workers’ Day.

For example, what happens in Finland? “In Finland, Walpurgis Night is, along with New Year’s Eve and Midsommar, the biggest carnival-style festivity, taking place in the streets of Finland’s towns and cities. The celebration is typically centered on plentiful use of sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages...From the end of the 19th century, this traditional upper class feast has been co-opted by students attending university, already having received their student cap. [Activities] include the capping of the Havis Amanda, a nude female statue in Helsinki, and the biannually alternating publications of ribald matter called Äpy and Julkku by students of the University of Technology. Both are sophomoric...”

One can only assume the article means both publications of ribald matter, not both students of Finland’s University of Technology.

In Scotland, at St. Andrews, some of the students gather on the beach late on April 30 and run into the North Sea at sunrise on May Day, occasionally naked. This is accompanied by torchlit processions and much elated celebration.

In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day.

If you read too far, you will learn of many lewd and lascivious connotations surrounding the celebrations of May Day as well, but I’m not going to help you find them. You’ll have to ferret them out for yourself. Instead, I leave you with this example of Morris dancing.

It must have been really difficult to find six men named Morris.

Note. It is also noteworthy to note that yelling “May Day” is not an international signal of distress. Yelling “m’aidez” (“help me” in French) is an international signal of distress.


  1. I can hear the jingle of the bells on the Morris dancers! You don't talk about the Maypole's, though with their country dancing, ribbon weaving games....Perhaps the thought of them relly drove you up the pole...

  2. jinksy - It's all there, under (a) the clickable link called "Maypole" and (b) the phrase "many lewd and lascivious connotations surrounding the celebrations of May Day" in the (if one counts the Note) antepenultimate paragraph.

    This is the first time I have used the word "antepenultimate" on this blog. There goes my readability score.

  3. Interesting post,as always.

    I suspect that endangered travelers (air or otherwise) would be surprised to learn that they were speaking French when they called for help. Is there any correlation to be made between the use of French as the international diplomatic language and as a cry for help?

    As for me, je suis americaine. Je ne parle pas francais.

  4. Pat - Peut-être pas, mais vous écrivez très bien.

  5. Thanks for bringing me up to speed on where the distress call "may day" originates.

    Don't you suppose all the old "lewd" traditions surrounding May Day are related to ancient fertility rites of spring. Its simply that time of year!

  6. Jeannelle - It is never "simply" that time of year. Personally, I blame it one the tilt of Earth's axis, but I'm no scientist.

  7. Oops. Boo-boo. Change "one" to "on"!