Informant – “In early May, the Waldorf school hosts a May Pole celebration. In the central courtyard of the lower grades, the faculty erects a tall wooden pole crowned with a bouquet of flowers. Dangling from the top of the pole are long ribbons. Everyone is invited. Grades 1-3 dance and sing songs with their German and Spanish teachers. Then grades 4-6 dance around the maypole with the ribbons. Each grade has a specific dance, but all the dances are spiral. They interweave the ribbons, going in and out. 7th grade plays the music. Each dance has a very specific song.”
Informant – “The May Pole is a symbolic of the Earth reawakening. The dancing is circular, spiral, going in and coming out. It’s the rhythm of how the world works, an awakening and a sleeping, an awakening and a sleeping. As the outer world becomes more opulent, we see the green, smell the flowers, and inner world becomes sleepier. It’s a very joyful, very OUTWARD celebration. We are recognizing the earth crowned with flowers, the scent, the glory. It’s very very visual.”
The informant learned about this festival when she started teaching at the Austin Waldorf School. She knew about the May Pole before, but not the specifics.
Each grade has a specific role to fill in the celebration. It’s highly regulated. This adds to the community-centric atmosphere of the festival. Everyone has a role to fill. The spiral dancing reminds me of a flower unfurling, going from within to without. It’s interesting that such a joyous, gregarious celebration is so strictly controlled. There is no room for improvisation.
Informant Bio: Informant is my mother. She was born in West Virginia and spent her childhood moving around the country, eventually settling in Massachusetts. She was exposed to many different traditions as she moved around the country as a child and still carries some with her to this day.
Context: I was interviewing my mother about traditions, stories and rituals she remembers from her childhood.
Item: “As a young child I enjoyed our May Day celebrations. The flagpole in front of the county court house was “dressed” up with brightly colored ribbons. The girls would each hold one ribbon and run around the pole. The younger girls succeed in making a big mess of the ribbons; but, as the girls got older, the movements improved and the spectacle was really beautiful and choreographed by a teacher at the elementary school”.
Analysis: This May Day celebration centered around the Maypole, and was directed by an elementary school teacher. It was a community wide event, much like May Day celebrations throughout history. The above account, with brightly colored ribbons, seems to celebrate the arrival of summer but does not have the sexual influences of European versions.
Historically, May Day has been a very political issue in the United States, with the first one on May 1, 1886 that had workers garnering support for lighter working hours. After World War II and in the wake of the Cold War, May Day was strongly associated with Marxists and the USSR and was thus white-washed from American culture and history. This may be why there is no major prevalence of May Day celebrations in the U.S. unlike many other major holidays. Recently, the Occupy movement has revitalized May Day in an effort to raise awareness and support for worker’s rights. This is in contrast to many parts of the world in which May Day has a strong and consistent history of celebration.