The following is a conversation with MA that describes her interpretation of the May Day celebration from how her high school celebrated the springtime festival. For a full history of May Day traditions in America, please see Allison Thompson’s 2009 May Day Festivals in America, 1830 to The Present (McFarland & Co.).
MA: So, we had the seniors eligible to be on May court and they would be elected by the student-body to be on that. Then first the sophomores walk around with flags and make an arc for the May court to walk through when they are announced and then people sing to the court and we always did a boy/girl cheer routine. Then the juniors would wrap the May pole in ribbons and the May queen would be crowned by the May queen of the previous year […]. It was a celebration of summer coming and purity. I know the actual May Day is on May 1, but ours fell on a different day every year, probably for school coordinating reasons.
EK: Did you were anything special for the occasion?
MA: Yeah, so freshman didn’t participate unless they were in the cheer routine. Sophomores wore pastel sun dresses, juniors wore big, pastel, poofy dresses, and seniors just had to wear some type of pastel formal wear, their guidelines weren’t as strict because they were seniors. I remember I wore a pastel green poofy dress, kind of like a Quinceañera dress, during my senior year.
EK: So, what did this celebration mean to you?
MA: Well I participated in it all four years; I was a cheerleader, so I did the cheer routine my freshman year. I know it was a celebration of spring and rebirth and summer coming and purity. For a lot of us in high school though it was just about dressing up and always happened before Prom, so whatever seniors were elected to be on May court were probably going to be on the Prom court too, haha. I just really liked dressing up and celebrating the event with my friends and family that would come to watch.
MA is the only person I know who has participated in a high school May Day celebration. I’ve known of the festival previously, however now it also has a bit of a negative connotation. I know that it is also considered International Workers’ Day, where people will take to the streets in political protest in several areas. It is interesting to me that while certain traditions of the celebration are upheld in some areas, such as in Stillman Valley High School where they have pastel colors and the May pole and the customary dancing, in other areas there is fighting, arrests, and riots. In MA’s recollection, though, she seemed to look forward to the celebration each year, really enjoying her high school’s unique tradition.