One of my earliest childhood memories of attending public school here in the United States, some 45 years ago, is that of celebrating May Day with my classmates. To be honest, I can’t remember why we celebrated May Day, but it was fun celebrating it just the same.
Our first activity at school was to decorate our own ribbon that would be attached to the maypole later that day. I remember the ribbon actually being white crepe paper. We were allowed to use every resource possible to decorate our ribbons and the teacher spared no supply. Glitter and glue, paint, markers, crayons, adhesive stickers, taped on paper decorations, and things that we were encouraged to bring from home were all used to make our ribbon unique. My ribbon’s distinguishing features were selected players from my baseball card collection – after all it was baseball season. Now, I was not idiotic in using this approach as I did not give Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays a ride on my maypole ribbon. Instead, it was a group of players to be named later that I brought along to help me celebrate May Day.
After lunchtime, as our teacher was attaching the ribbons to the maypole, there was an activity that mirrored the tradition of leaving a decorated basket full of treats on a doorstep and then ringing the doorbell and running away. For us, we were outside standing in a big circle, with one student walking around behind us with a basket of candy. If that person touched you on the back you then chased them around the circle and if you caught them before returning to your spot in the circle, then you got to pick a piece of candy out of the basket and you became the basket carrier. Rest assured, at the end of the activity we all got candy from the basket.
Our day finished with what I remember as a typical maypole activity where we each held onto our decorated ribbons that were now attached to the maypole and began walking around the pole in a circular motion. Half the class walked in one direction as the other half walked the opposite way, and as we walked the teacher was giving constant direction to walk in an alternating motion that created the weaving of our ribbons on the pole. As we continued, in less than a perfect fashion, some of my baseball cards fell victim to all the weaving and foot traffic around the maypole. However, after we had finished and were allowed a few minutes of recess before going home for the day, I rescued them from beneath the beautiful pole.
My memories of that day are vivid and pleasant. Although May Day seems to be becoming more of a forgotten festivity in our culture, I hope the children of today still have it or other opportunities for celebration – if for no other reason than for them to enjoy the act of celebrating itself.