Friday 1 May 2009

MayDay, Mayfair, Maypoles, International Workers’ Day – Part 2 of 4

Dear Mr Postman - many thanks for coming today .. yet another of these Bank Holiday weekends .. the weather is certainly warming up ..

Yesterday, May 1st, was the start of the summer .. and with the spread of Christianity came agricultural feasts .. May Day is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings. Since May 1st is the Feast of St Philip and St James, they became the patron saints of workers as it was convenient to give farm labourers the day off .. the seeds had all been planted. St Philip was one of the twelve disciples, while St James became the Bishop of Jerusalem.

International Workers’ Day or Labour Day – a “workers holiday” began in Australia in 1856 and as the commemoration day spread around the world to celebrate the fight for the eight hour day; the Haymarket affair in 1886 occurred during the course of a three-day general strike in Chicago that involved labourers, artisans, merchants and immigrants also has May Day as its memorial day. However the USA now celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday in September, with May 1st being designated Loyalty Day; elsewhere in other countries labour rallies are still held on May 1st.

Mayfair – that fashionable district in the West End of London – was originally called Brookfield! – however it now takes its name from the May fair which occupied the site in the heart of present day Mayfair: Hertford Street, Curzon Street and Shepherd Market. There was an annual fair in the area from the time of Edward I (1239 – 1307), called St James’s Fair, which began on the eve of St James. After a brief period of being curtailed during the plague and being suppressed during the early 1600s, James II (1633 – 1701) renewed the tradition of the Fair on May 1st, hence its name now .. Mayfair.

During the 18th century it became a centre for drinking and gambling etc (which has remained in modern times!) .. eventually the Fair itself was abolished by George III late in his reign (1738 – 1820). Before that the Mayfair Chapel married Elizabeth Gunning to the Duke of Hamilton: the duke had declared his desire to marry Elizabeth the night he met her, but the local parson refused to perform the ceremony .. as there was no license, the banns had not been called and there wasn’t a proper ring ... however the Mayfair Chapel required none of these .. well the ring was provided .. a curtain ring!! The clandestine marriage was performed whereupon Elizabeth became the Duchess of Hamilton. She was well respected as George III created her Baroness Hamilton of Hameldon in 1776 in her own right.

Maypoles have their roots in Germanic paganism from the invasion of Germanic tribes across most of Western Europe occurring after the fall of the Roman Empire. Maypoles were erected throughout the country when the locals danced under the decorated poles .. flowers, bowers, baskets were spread around the villages .. May baskets of flowers delivered anonymously to neighbours’ doorsteps .. should the neighbour catch the deliverer .. then a kiss may be demanded!!

Long coloured ribbons are suspended from the pole, which is festooned with flowers, draped in greenery, hung with large circular wreaths, or adorned with other symbols or decorations. The Scandinavian poles tend to be taller than our shorter English versions .. while we’ve adopted dances, for the school children, that weave the ribbons in and out to create striking patterns – these probably derived from the picturesque, Italianate dances performed in the mid 19th century theatricals.

Maypole dancing in the United States is an important part of many Secondary or High School dances as part of their May Day performances. However the early colony of Merrymount (Quincy, Massachusetts) (established 1625) outraged its Puritan neighbours by setting up a maypole! This became the inspiration for the short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Maypole of Merry Mount.

In 1628 .. the governor of New Plymouth, wrote of an incident where a number of servants, together with the aid of an agent, Mr Morton, broke free from their indentured service to create their own colony, setting up a maypole in the centre of the settlement, and behaving in such a way as to receive the scorn and disapproval of the nearby colonies, as well as an official officer of the king, bearing patent for the state of Massachusetts. It’s quite an interesting early American colonial story .. and can be found in Wikipedia under its Maypole section.

As times move on .. May Day takes on the more traditional observances .. preserving popular secular celebrations, and reconstructing the old traditions and celebrating May Day as a pagan religious festival again.

Mr Postman thank you for visiting today .. there’s so much history about MayDay, maypoles .. and I guess we’ve hardly scratched the surface .. so tomorrow we’ll know more ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
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positively present said...

More about May Day! Yay! :)

Unknown said...

Hello Hilary,

I did not know there was May Day history long before communism start up days. May seems to be beautiful time all over the world. I always imagine blue sky in Japan in May.

Thank you for your sharing.
Shaw Funami
Fill the Missing Link

Peter Baca said...

Hi Hilary,

Thank you for your insightful post about May day and the various versions around the world. The origination of maypoles was very informative....and fascinating history!

Best Regards

Pete Baca
The Car Enthusiast Online

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi PP .. yes there's lots and lots!! It seems to allow everyone to come together at the start of summer and join in within the villages and communities.

Thanks for coming back .. good to seeyou ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Shaw .. most of our festivals or feasts started so long ago .. Greek, Roman, and then those pagan festivals were absorbed into the Christian fairs .. each era taking on the last and merging into the new way of thinking ..

May is a beautiful month .. especially for us in northern hemisphere .. South Africa it was starting to get noticeably colder, but still clear skies .. the rains tended! to come in October onwards.

Thanks for your comments
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Pete ..thanks for visiting .. tall maypoles from Scandinavia seem logical .. bearing in mind the Christmas trees!! I'm just so pleased some of these traditions are being revived and so can be re-learnt and enjoyed by the youngsters .. sharing the dancing with adults and their friends within their community.

Thanks so much -
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Liara Covert said...

Funny how Labour day is a desiganted annual day in so many different countries. It is sometimes forgotten human beings are meant to love and appreciate everyone for who they are everyday. They are not supposed to require reminders.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. it seems to me that Labour Day grew out of supporting the people, and actually bringing their hours down, and better conditions .. if they want to work for someone else .. - it's only really in the last 20 years or so .. that we have become open to these ideas that we can love one another .. however society tends to want to keep facts and dates alive? .. the times they are a-changing ..

Thanks Hilary Melton-Butcher
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