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May Holidays Asterisks appear next to saints' names - see Celebrating Saints

May 1 May Day

May 1 May Day/Labor Day
Labor Day as a worker’s holiday evolved out of struggles of American workers to get the legislature to enact laws reducing the working day from ten to eight hours. The law declaring an eight-hour day passed by the Illinois legislature in 1867 took effect on May 1st and was celebrated with a procession and mass meeting. However, this was only the beginning of the struggle as many states did not adopt similar laws and even in Illinois, the law only applied where written contracts existed with the workers.

The National Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Assemblies decided to support the cause by calling for a general strike on May 1 1886. Although the May 1st processions and strikes were peaceful, the strike continued in Chicago and led to violence outside the McCormick reaper factory on May 3rd and at Haymarket Square on May 4 with both workers and police killed and injured.

In 1889, a congress of World Socialist parties meeting in Paris decided to hold a demonstration in support of American workers on May 1, 1890. The custom spread throughout Europe, reaching its zenith in the spectacular parades in Moscow during the Soviet period.

It seems likely that those who sponsored the holiday were simply taking advantage of an earlier holiday, just like the Christians capitalized on pagan holidays. May Day was already a sort of Labor Day, a day when people took off from their usual work to frolic in the woods. Making it an official day off simply acknowledged what was already common practice. Unfortunately, it also lost that delicious flavor of impulsive abandon, somewhat like school-sanctioned Senior Ditch Days.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

May 1 Between the Beltanes
Children born between the Beltanes (May 1 and May 8) have "the skill of man and beast" and power over both.

Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987

May 1 Bona Dea
This was the day of dedication for the Aventine festival of the mysterious and generically named Good Goddess. Her cult was older than that of Heracles, which was itself pre-Roman. She was known as the wife of Faunus, a rustic god of woods and flocks, and she governed fertility and healing. Her rites were for women only and her oracles were revealed only to women.

Also on May 1st, the priests of Vulcan sacrificed a pregnant pig to Maia. Since a pig is the appropriate sacrifice for an earth goddess, Maia was equated with the earth by some Roman writers, as was Bona Dea.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

May 1 Lei Day
Apparently in Hawaii this is a day for wearing leis and honoring the spirit of the lei: friendliness and good will. It seems appropriate to me to do this on May Day and in the middle of the Floralia, the festival in honor of flowers and sexuality.

May 1 Ascension Day
Ascension Thursday is one of the oldest festivals in the Catholic Church, having been celebrated since 68 AD. Water is the primary element of this holy day.

In Armenia, girls tell their fortunes from tokens thrown into a bowl of water drawn from seven springs. All brooks and springs are said to be filled with healing power at midnight. If you don't want to visit your local body of water at midnight, you might just put out a container and hope it rains since any water that falls from the skies on this day can also heal. In a somewhat related vein, in Sweden, a person who fishes from dawn until night on the Ascension will learn the hour when the fish bite best and be lucky in her angling all year.

In Greece, Ascension Day is considered the start of the swimming season. In Venice, the Doge used to wed the sea on this day by throwing in a wedding ring and some holy water. In Tissington, Derbyshire, wells are decorated on this day. In Nantwich, they bless the Brine, a very old pit, which is visited and hung with garlands. These customs seem to hark back to an old rite propitiating the spirit of the well (or the ocean).

In the early 19th century, the Halliwell (Holy Well) Wake was held on this day in the hamlet of Rorrington on the Shropshire/Wales border. The local people met at the holy well on the hillside at Rorrington Green and decorated with well with green boughs, flowers and rushes. A maypole was erected. While a fife, drum and fiddle played, the people danced and frolicked around the hill, followed by feasting, drinking and more dancing.

The Armenians believe that on Ascension Eve, stones, stars and other soulless objects are said to receive the gift of speech and to share each other's secrets. And in Poland, "the dragon who guards hidden treasures throughout the night, exposes them to view on Ascension, when he sets them out to air." The sun is said to dance on this day when it rises.

Hole, Christina, A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Paladin 1978
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Woman's Press 1937

May 1 Festa del Grillo
In Italy, Ascension is called La Festa del Grillo, the outdoor festival of crickets. People spend the day outdoors, reclining under the shade of trees, feasting on picnic and BBQ foods. Kids look for crickets, true symbols of spring, poking a piece of grass into their holes to lure them into cages already prepared with a piece of lettuce at the bottom. Nowadays the crickets are sold in pretty painted cages.

According to Toor, the Etruscans called the cricket scarabeus and honored it. The Greeks and Romans connected its chirping to the muses and music. The Greeks and Etruscans believed that the longer the confined grillo lived, the longer the life of its owner. The murals of Pompei depict tiny grillo cages made of reed. In Florence, they say that a singing grillo brings good luck. Freeing them also brings good luck. Children sing a song to their caged grillos (which reminds me of the American lady bug song):

Grillo, mio Grillo Cricket, my Cricket,
Se tu vo' moglie dillo! If you want a wife say so!
Se poi t'un la voi, If later you repent
Abbada a' fatti tuoi! Then hold your peace!

Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Toor, Frances, Festivals and Folkways of Italy, Crown 1953

May 1 Snake Festival
On the first Thursday in May, the town of Cocullo Italy is full of snakes, in honor of San Domenico. Snake handlers gather the snakes on March 19 (St Joseph's Day or equinox) when they are first emerging into the warmth of the spring sun and store them in jars of bran. On the feast day they bring them out and people get their photograph taken with a snake draped around them. Previously they took the snakes to Mass and waved them over their heads when the Host was elevated. Now they carry them in procession, along with the image of San Domenico. The festival used to end with the snakes being killed or sold to pharmacists to be made into ointments and cures. Now they are let loose.

San Domenico, a Benedictine monk, who was born in Umbria in 951, protects people from the bites of venomous snakes and rabid dogs, perhaps because of the story of how he tamed a fierce wolf that was about to steal a child. The story says he came to Cocullo when it was plagued by an invasion of snakes and charmed them out of their nests, just like St Patrick. But before San Domenico arrived in these parts, the Etruscans, the indigenous people in this part of Italy, worshipped the goddess Angizia, a snake enchantress who lived in a nearby sacred wood and protected people from serpents. She was said to be a sister of Circe. She may be connected with Isis who mated with a serpent. Until some time in the last century, the people of Abruzzo believed the serpent copulated with all women.

Just as in the story of St Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland, this legend may record the transition from the earlier times when snakes were associated with the goddess and the bad reputation they acquired under Christianity. At one time, snakes were symbols of wisdom, and brought the gifts of prophecy and healing, which is why they appear on the caduceus, the symbol of the medical profession. They were also associated with fertility, since they penetrate the earth, and with rebirth, because of the way they shed their skins.

Ciambellone, special breads shaped like a snake biting its tail, are made to decorate the poles which support the statues in the procession. Treats called ciambelle, made from little twisted wreaths of bread, flavored with anise seed, look like snakes wrapped around each other. These sweets that are shaped and coiled like snakes occur only in regions of Italy where the Etruscans lived.

Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990

May 3 Holy Rood Day
Here is a day honoring trees, at this time of the year when trees are at their most magnificent. Of course, it became associated with that particular Christian tree, the Cross, which is known as the Rood.

In England, this was considered a fortunate day for putting bulls to cows. The way it is celebrated by the Indians in Mexico recalls its undoubted origins as a fertility festival like May Day and Beltane. In some villages, people begin to prepare for it in February, bringing wood from the hills to make crosses. On April 8, the mayordomos and wives go to the river to wash the clothes of the holy cross along with musicians. They replace the old crosses with new ones and dress them up in new clothes, kerchiefs and ribbons. They dance around the benches in the church, three times between, three times backwards and three times around.

The Holy Cross is the patron of masons so crosses are set up on every work site and decorated with flowers and streamers. At noon, all work stops and the men drink and shoot off fireworks.

This day also carries the reputation of being singularly unfortunate.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Kightly, Charles,
The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987
Toor, Frances,
A Treasury of Mexican Folkways, Crown 1947

May 3 Avoiding Day
In Scotland, May the 3rd was called "Avoiding Day" or the "Dismal Day" and the day on which it fell was considered unlucky throughout the year. One explanation for the taint of bad luck attached to this day declared that this was the day the bad angels were kicked out of heaven. They haunt the earth on this day and make it an unlucky day to start a journey, get married or count livestock.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Kightly, Charles,
The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987

May 3 *Ss Timothy and Mavra
These newlywed Christians were martyred by being nailed to a wall. Since Mavra means black in Greek, no one cuts, bleaches or sews cloth on this day lest black spots appear on the cloth or on the hands. In fact, "all activities which are not absolutely safe are generally avoided."

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

May 3 Santacruzan
In the Philippines, the day of the Holy Cross is called Santacruzan and is the culmination of a nine-day novena. It is celebrated with flowers and a procession during which young women dress up as various “Accolades of Our Lady,” and act out the finding of the Holy Cross.

Click here for a thorough description of the festivities.

San Domenico and Snakes
Image of San Domenico covered in Snakes

May 3 Our Lady of Czestochowa
One of the most interesting of the Black goddesses, a manifestation of the Mater Dolorosa, Our Lady of Sorrows. People make pilgrimages to her shrine in Poland. She has dark skin and two parallel vertical scars on her cheek. She bows her head and holds the Christ Child in her arms.

In the Vodou tradition, this image is used to represent Ezili Danto, an aspect of the love-goddess who's a fierce single mother. Haitians see her child as a girl and recognize her African heritage in the scars, recalling tribal practices of marking the skin. Ezili Danto has many lovers but is never married. When she takes human lovers, in a spirit marriage, she is as likely to marry women as men. So she is seen as an independent, child-bearing women with a sexuality that flouts patriarchal conventions. She is hard-working and quick to respond to crisis. But she is also quick to anger. A song for Danto, says "When you see Danto pass by, you say it is a thunderstorm."

Brown, Karen McCarthy, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn, University of California Press 1991

May 4 *St Monica
She is the matron of mothers, although she sounds more like the matron of martyrs. She married a pagan, a man of high temper, who made her life miserable, but eventually through her good influence, he was converted. Her son, Augustine, who was 17 when his father died, was equally a cross to bear. He was wild and dissolute, drinking too much and patronizing prostitutes. He had a mistress and became a Manichean heretic. But eventually the prayers of his mother paid off and he became a devout Christian (and a devout misogynist).

May 4 Expectation Sunday
The Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost was called Expectation, as people waited eagerly for the festivities of Pentecost, the Christian equivalent of May Day.

May 4 Pilgrimage to St Mary’s Well
A writer for the London Times reported on 25 May 1957 about his pilgrimage to St. Mary’s Well in Culloden on the first Sunday in May, the traditional time for performing a ritual that survived for centuries. Pilgrims first threw a coin into the well, as a tribute to the spirit dwelling there, then took a sip of the water, made a wish, and tied a “clootie” or small rag to a branch of the over-hanging tree. The prayer flags were left up to be rotted away by the elements. To remove them would be to bring upon yourself the afflictions the original owners were trying to shed.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

May 5 Boys Festival
In Japan, families with little boys celebrate by hoisting paper or cloth carp over their houses on bamboo poles. In what seems like an imitation (or perhaps a parallel to) the Doll Festival (see Feb 3), warrior dolls are set up and displayed indoors.

Our Lady of Czestochowa
Our Lady of Czestochowa

May 5 Cinco de Mayo
Independence Day for Mexico, celebrated with fireworks, speeches and parades. In America, like other national holidays (particularly St Patrick's Day and St George's Day) it is associated with conspicuous consumption of alcohol, especially tequila, Mexican music, dancing and food.

May 5 Day of Swings
In Korea, people stay out all day and play, swinging on swings. Another picnic and frolic in the woods day, so common during this tide of early summer, like May Day, Lag B'Omer, St George's Day (May 6) and La Festa del Grillo.

May 5 New Moon in Taurus
The fourth moon of the Chinese lunar calendar is called the Peony Month and marks the beginning of a time of pilgrimages.

This is also the start of the Greek lunar month of Thargelion and the Jewish lunar month of Iyar.

May 6 Hidrellez
The Turks celebrate the first of May with picnic outings, to celebrate the spring. One of the traditional dishes served is a Yayla Chorbash, a yogurt soup, which features many foods associated with May Day including dairy, fresh herbs and the colors of white and green.

You can find the recipe for Yayla Chorbashin my May Day packet, along with other traditional May Day foods. To order, click here.

Click here for more information on Hidrellez.

May 6 *St George's Day
Although Apr 23 is usually considered St George's Day, Eastern Christians prefer this date. It's again a day for going outside. Serbs rise early, before dawn and go out into the woods to bring back flowers and green for decorating homes, schools and meeting halls. It's considered a hinge day (just like Beltane), and the start of the swimming season.

On this day Bulgarians used to smear their doorjambs with fresh lamb's blood as a charm against sickness and evil, which suggests the older custom that underlies the story of Passover and may be related to a feast of shepherds in the spring. Especially since in Bulgaria it is on this day that farmers ask St George to send them an even bigger lamb, promising to use it in the ceremony the next year.

In Russia, this day is especially connected with soldiers, as is St George.

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994
Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

Flag of Mexico
Flag of Mexico

May 8 Furry Dance
There are several explanations for the derivation of the word Furry, for instance, that it derives from Flora, the Roman goddess (see Apr 28) or from the word for fire? But most likely it comes from the Latin word for fair (feria). It is the name given to the Beltane-like festival celebrated in Helston Cornwall, and featuring decorating with greenery, dancing and singing. It is one of the oldest communal Spring festivals in Great Britain, celebrated for centuries.

On May 1st, there is a preliminary event, with music in the morning and night, and spontaneous dancing by children. The festival on May 8th, has a formal structure. There is an Early Morning Dance at 7 am (getting up early is always a feature of May Day rituals) and like most of these early morning rituals is celebrated by the young people, who all wear lilies-of-the-valley (also the flower of May Day in France). Other young people are out in the woods gathering green branches. There is a procession with young men dressed as St Michael, St George, Robin Hood and his men, who sing an ancient song, welcoming the Summer. At ten o'clock children, dressed in white and wearing lilies of the valley, dance. At noon, there is another dance led by the Mayor in his official regalia, and followed by men and women in couples, the men in top hats and morning coats, the women in summer dresses. They dance through the main streets and in and out of all the gardens, shops and houses. There is another dance at 5 pm, which visitors can join, so that the whole town is dancing. In earlier times, there was also a ball at night.

Like other May Day festivities, there's also an association with water. The young people took anyone caught working on this holiday to the river where they were ordered to either pay a fine or leap across it (which because of its width meant getting wet). They could also demand a toll of any stranger entering town.

Hole, Christina, A Dictionary of British Folk Customs. Paladin 1978

May 9 Lemuria
The Romans set aside a week for appeasing the lemures (the ghosts of one's ancestors). At midnight, the head of the household performed a ritual to summon hem, by washing his hands in spring water, casting away as many black beans as there were residents in the household, washing his hands again and clashing bronze cymbals to summon the ghosts. This ritual was repeated on the 11th and the 13th.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

May 9 *St Christopher
This saint, portrayed in the Eastern church as a man with the head of a dog, was supposedly descended from a legendary race of giants with human bodies and canine heads. When he converted to Christianity, he was given the name Christ-bearer to show he carried the divinity within. This became the source of the story of how he carried the Christ Child across a raging river in a storm, thus he is the patron of travellers, who often wear St Christopher medals for protection.

A French scholar, Saintyves, whose work is cited by McNeill, thought Christopher was a successor of Anubis, Hermes and Hercules. He notes that he has two festivals on May 9th (in the Eastern church) and July 25th (in the Western church) and that these dates correspond to the setting and rising of Sirius, the Dog Star.

At Guadalajara in Mexico, porters solicit the help of St Christopher with this prayer:

Dichoso Cristobalazo - Fortunate Great Christopher,
Santazo de cuerpo entero - mighty saint with sturdy body
Y no como otros santitos - and not like other saints
Que ni se ven en el cielo - Who aren’t even noticed in heaven.

Herucleo Cristobalazo - Herculean Great Christopher
Forzudo como un Sanson - brawny as a Samson
Con tu enorme cabezon - with your huge great head
Y tu nervoso pescuezo - and your sinewy neck

Hazme grueso y vigoroso - make me stout and strong
Hombrazo de cuerpo entero - a real man with sturdy body,
Y no come estos tipitos - and not like those feeble fellows
Que casi besan el suelo - who all but kiss the ground

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
MacNeill, Maire,
The Festival of Lughnasa, Oxford University Press 1962

May 10 Start of Bird Week/Tori no Mawari
In Japan, where rapid deforestation caused the loss of bird habitat and accordingly the birds, people are encouraged to spend this week getting to know birds. Ornithologists, bird-watchers and other experts give lectures and students work on bird-related projects, like planting pine trees.

In Oklahoma, May 1st is Bird Day.

May 10 Mania
According to a fragmentary inscription, the ancient Romans on this day made a sacrifice to a deity whose name began with MA, probably Mania, the mother of the Lares. She was probably a death goddess worshipped during the Lemuria (see May 9). The same word was used for ugly effigies made from flour and to scare children (like a bogeyman).

Offerings made to her included garlic, poppy heads and sheep. It is alleged that in earlier times, children were the sacrificial offering. The interesting article on ancient Roman sacrifices published at the Nova Roma website cites Macrobius as one of the sources for this information.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens,
Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

May 10 Rosalia
See May 31st. See Rose article.

May 10 Sluggard's Feast
In the Netherlands, the day before Pentecost Sunday is the Sluggard's Feast. Boys and girls get up early and gather green boughs from the woods (sounds like May Day, doesn't it?). They dip them in water and fasten them over the doors of the sluggards, those who have slept in, those too stodgy to want to go roaming in the woods. When the late risers open their doors, the branches tumble down and drench them. Then the young people who are lurking nearby beat the lazy ones with branches and sing songs about the sluggard. Perhaps along the lines of these lines from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (The Knight's Tale):

For May wol have no slogardie anyght.
The sesoun priketh every gentil herte,
And maketh hym out of his slep to sterte.

In Czechoslovakia, the boys bring decorated tress (Maypoles?) into the village at night and set them up before the door or on the roof of the house of the girl they love.

Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Woman's Press 1937

May 10 Psychosavato
On the Saturday before Pentecost, Psychosavato or Decoration Day, Greeks visit cemeteries and decorate the graves with wreaths and flowers. Perhaps this is the original source of Memorial Day. The Rumanians celebrate a similar festival (see Jun 17).

Carlos Ginzburg discusses certain customs that link Pentecost and the dead. In Rumania, during the 17th century, certain women (who called themselves rusalii) fell into trance on Pentecost. When they came to, they said they had spoken with God, the saints, the living and the dead. It seems they were psychopomps, mediating between the living and the dead, the material world and the spirit world. Rusalii also means spirits of the dead and is associated with female water spirits, who were viewed like mermaids, as sirens who seduced men into death by drowning.

Ginzburg citing studies by Nilsson and Ranke says that Pentecost derives from the Rosalia (a Roman rose festival celebrated on June 6th). Roses have long been associated with both love and death.

More recently in the last century, a similar event occurred in a Serbian town. A group of young and old women fell into catalepsy on Pentecost while surrounded by a group of men who performed a frenetic dance. The leader held in his hand a knife adorned with garlic, camomile and other plants and sprayed river water mixed with the juice of chopped herbs on the faces of the women to revive them after their trance. Gifts were set out of people who had recently died or their favorite songs were played.

Ginzburg, Carlo, Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches Sabbats
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Woman's Press 1937

May 11 *St James
One of the original apostles, who wrote the first epistle, he is also, for no apparent reason, the patron of hat-makers.

Wear a hat, make a hat, buy a hat or do something nice for your local milliner.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

May 11 Pentecost, Whit Sunday
The holy day of Pentecost, also known as Whitsunday, is the Christian equivalent of Beltane. Churches are decorated with green boughs. Urlin describes the custom at Messina of dropping great quantities of roses from the ceiling of the church during the singing of the famous Come Holy Spirit. The sound of the wind was created by blowing trumpets. In England some churches let loose doves, while is old St Paul's Cathedral, a pigeon was released through an aperture in the roof together with a great censer full of incense. In every way, it seems the emphasis was on the marriage of spirit from above (symbolized by incense or birds) with the earth (symbolized by greens).

The royal marriage shows up as well in other English customs, for instance the famous Whitsun Ale at Woodstock, where a man and woman were chosen Lord and Lady and paraded around the town. In Koretzting in Bavaria, the royal couple were called the Whitsun Bride and Bridgeroom. The Hungarians have an expression, "As short as the kingdom of Whitsun," referring to the two-day reign of the Whitsun Queen who is taken from house to house accompanied by girls singing songs about her and her rose-red crown.

All across Europe, Whitsunday and Whitmonday are holidays which people plan to spend outside. They are occasions for picnics, visits to the country, walks in the park, excursions to fairs. Danes go out to parks and forests to gather armfuls of young beech trees which are just budding and bring them home to decorate their houses. The Germans decorate with branches of birch. In Poland, Pentecost is called Zielowe Swiatki, the Green Holiday. People cut down branches of the birch and bring them into the house to put around windows. According to Jane Yolen in Briar Rose, a novel which combines the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty with the story of the Holocaust, the Poles once believed that birch trees housed the souls of the dead. This brings up the connection between death and the summer holidays. Perhaps it has something to do with the opening between Heaven and Earth, conceptualized as the descent of the Holy Spirit in Christian mythology, with the Sacred Marriage in the older traditions.

The Pennsylvania Dutch use this day for weather divination according to folklorist Don Yoder. If it rains on Whitsunday, it will rain for seven Sundays.

Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Woman's Press 1937
Yoder, Don, Groundhog's Day

Furry Dance poster
Furry Dance handbill

May 11 Mother's Day
The second Sunday in May was declared an official American holiday in 1915 after many years of lobbying by ardent women, many of them early feminists and political activists. But it has its roots in an older festival, Mothering Sunday, the third Sunday before Easter. The French celebrate La Fete des Meres on the last Sunday in May.

The roots of the modern Mother’s Day go back to 1870 when Julia Ward Howe, who had written The Battle Hymn of the Republic began thinking about how to end war. She believed that no mother would willingly send her son to die so she organized peace conferences in England and America and, in 1872, proclaimed June 2 as a holiday called Mother’s Day of Peace. Although the holiday was observed in 18 cities in the United States, and also in Rome and Constantinople, it did not catch on until Anna Jarvis, who wanted to honor her mother, persuaded her church to celebrate Mother’s Day in 1907.

Anna Jarvis, who never had children, spent years lobbying to have Mother’s Day recognized, and once it was, she spent years protesting its commercialization. She was opposed to both the selling of flowers and mailing of gift cards. She died in an insane asylum and it is tempting to believe she was driven mad by the futility of this effort. But we can uphold her wishes and refuse to participate in such hollow practices, preferring instead to refer to the heart for wisdom about how to celebrate.

Mother’s Day Proclamation written by JULIA WARD HOWE: in 1870

Arise, then, women of this day.
Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears.
Say firmly, we will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all
that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.
From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes out with our own.
It says, disarm. Disarm.
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.
Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war,
let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first as women to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other, as the means
whereby the great human family can live in peace,
and each bearing after her own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Interview conducted by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now with Valarie Seigler, Professor of Religious Studies at DePauw, and author of Diva Julia: The Public Romance and Private Agony of Julia Ward How.

May 11 Cat Festival
On the second Sunday in May, the people of Ieper, Belgium celebrate cats, not mothers, with the Cat Festival (Kattestoet). The story goes that Baudoin III, the Count of Flanders, in 962, ordered the people of Ypres to throw live cats from the tower of his castle as a way of demonstrating that they were renouncing pagan superstitions. The festival was banned on and off. By 1817, the ceremony was conducted by a single citizen, dressed in a a jester’s costume of red jacket and white cap and ribbons, throwing a live cat from the tower (the cat often survived the fall—so much for those pagan superstitions!). During World War II, the festival was replaced by a concert of bells, but in 1938, it came back, with stuffed cats replacing the live ones. It now includes a Cat Parade with floats and costumes based on famous felines in myth and history, followed by skits in which cats are used to parody both current and historical events, and a mock trial. . Until 1958, the festival was celebrated on the second Sunday of Lent but since cats don’t like wet weather, it was moved to the second Sunday in May.

NY Times article.

Mom & Me

May 12 Twilight Time

‘Tis said that from the twelfth of May
to the twelfth of July all is day.

From the twelfth day of May
To the twelfth of July
Adieu to starlight
For all is twilight.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

May 13 Birthday of the Buddha
On the 8th day of the fourth lunar month, the Chinese celebrate the birthday of the Buddha by distributing beans. The Japanese usually celebrate this holiday on the solar date of April 8 by gathering at temples where they present offerings of flowers and pour hydrangea tea over the head of the bronze statue of the infant Buddha which sits in a basin of the naturally sweet dark tea.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, 1999
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

May 14 Argei
The ancient Romans honored Mars Invictus on this day. Human effigies made of rushes and called Argei were thrown into the Tiber River. Although there are many details about the ritual, the meaning itself is obscure, although Plutarch calls it the greatest of purifications.

Mars was once an agricultural god and the throwing of a greenery-clad effigy into the river may be a symbolic sacrifice of the reborn spring god.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

May 14 Start of the Ember Days
The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after Pentecost are days dedicated to prayers for the clergy in the Catholic and Episcopalian churches.

Who is it that plays the role of priest, priestess or spiritual advisor in your life? Can you honor or acknowledge them on this day? If you play this role for others, consider ways to nurture and strengthen yourself.

Tickle, Phyllis, Graces We Remember: Sacred Days of Ordinary Time, Loyola Press 2004

Mom & Me

May 15 *St Isidore
This 11th century Spanish saint, who spent his whole life working in the fields, is the patron of farmers and Madrid.

He is usually depicted wearing blue pants and a cape, a sack slung over one shoulder, kneeling in prayer while an angel plows the land behind him with a pair of white oxen. In the Vodou tradition, he is associated with Asaka, the "Minister of Agriculture," who wears a blue denim shirt and a broad-brimmed straw hat, and carries a straw satchel, the typical garb of a peasant farmer in Haiti.

St Isidore is also the patron of plough-pulling animals. Filipinos honor their primary beast of burden, the water-buffalo, on this holiday by garlanding the animals with flower and marching them to church to be blessed. Afterward they race the animals across the fields, then gather for a feast. Every house features a pahiya, a lush arrangement of coconut, sugar cane, pineapple, banana, cookies and candies made of steamed, tinted and hardened rice shaped like leaves. At the end of the day, the pahiya is given away for good luck.

Since San Isidro is the patron saint of Madrid this is start of the city’s big festival (feria). People processed to his shrine where they drink the miracle-working water (San Isidro is famous for his gift of divining water), then picnicked in the meadows surrounding the shrine. The Madrid festival continues for days with parties, bullfights (this is the start of the bullfighting season) and other cultural events.

Overnight pilgrimages to sacred sites near water and involving picnics outdoors are called romerias in Spain and often happen at Whitsun. They are thus part of a grand tradition of celebrating outdoors (May romps in the woods, Lag B’Omer) which Elisabeth Luard relates to the informal celebrations and flirtations that are part of the move of the animals from the winter to the summer pastures found in pastoral societies. Always an opportunity for young people to meet each other and flirt.

Brown, Karen McCarthy, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn, University of California Press 1991
Rufus, Anneli,
The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

St Isidore
St Isidore

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