Traditionally May has always been an important month with the first day of May being celebrated in many different countries. People come together to celebrate the approach of summer with customs that express their joy at the end of a long winter and their hope for the future. May Day celebrations date back to Roman times and their festival of Flora, goddess of fruit and flowers. Traditionally in England people would go a-Maying early on May Day. Houses would be decorated with flowers and greenery in the belief that the vegetation spirits would bring good fortune to the householders and children would make posies of flowers and leave them on the doorsteps of houses to bring good luck. Girls would wash their faces in the early morning dew in the belief that this would make them beautiful for the following year. They would make garlands by covering two hoops, one at right angles inside the other, with foliage and flowers and would sometimes put a doll inside to represent the goddess of Spring. Often a May Queen was selected who would be lifted by the men in a flower bedecked throne and would watch over the village festivities: dancing, archery, sports, Morris dancing, and, of course,Maypole dancing.
I have always loved the month of May, partly because it is my birthday month and who doesn’t enjoy the month of their birthday even when they’re grown up. But it’s much more than that. To me May is a month full of promise; Winter is finally over and, even though there may still be a few cold snaps, we know that Summer is just around the corner. The garden starts to come to life, we start pulling out summer clothes and shoes, we take a critical look at our bodies and desperately start a strict exercise regime so we will be ready for shorts and floaty summer dresses. The swallows and house martins return and busy themselves readying their old familiar nests for this year’s offspring and we bustle around the garden mowing and weeding and planting, restoring order to the chaos that has ensued over Winter, making things as perfect as we can for our longed for summer days. School playing fields go through a similar transformation and soon it is difficult to remember the rugby and football games played in mud as we see pristine cricket pitches, tennis courts and athletic tracks. It’s that wonderful time of year when children can actually go on the field at break and lunchtimes and run around in the way that children should or simply laze around on the grass making daisy chains. Time slows down, people start to relax, they smile more, they’re kinder to one another. There is an air of anticipation as summer approaches. Will we be lucky, will it be a good one, will it live up to expectations? At this moment, in May, it doesn’t really matter, the joy is in the expectation, the promise of good times ahead, the joy of no school, no routine, family holidays.
My feelings about May are summed up perfectly in this extract from Robert Browning’s Home Thoughts From Abroad:
And after April, when May follows
And the white-throat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom’d pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray’s edge—
That ’s the wise thrush: he sings each song twice over
Lest you should think he never could re-capture
The first fine careless rapture!
And, though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower,
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!
As a child I would fling open my bedroom window and breathe in the scent of the lilac tree in blossom underneath, listen to the song thrushes, watch the birds darting around building their nests and would feel totally content.
The world was a beautiful place and life was good.