If you know why I just said "May Day" twice instead of thrice, good on you! I'll explain it shortly for the others, but perhaps you will find the rest of the post entertaining nonetheless.
So it's May first, or 1 May, to put it correctly. Did you make someone a May Basket and leave it to-day? Huh? Judas H Priest in the archives, more musty stuff from Past Elder? Whatever am I talking about?
OK, maybe you've heard "May Day" as a distress signal in the movies. So why "May Day" for a distress signal, did something really bad happen on 1 May once? No. The expression originated from the legendary Croydon Airport in London, which closed 30 September 1959. It was the first airport to begin what is now called air traffic control, in 1921. A senior radio officer named Frederick Stanley Mockford was asked to come up with something understood by all concerned to indicate distress, a grave or immanent danger needing immediate help.
It was to be a spoken radio equivalent to the radiotelegraphic SOS in effect since 1 July 1908; the telephonic 9-1-1 was decades away. Since at that time most of the traffic was between Croydon and also legendary Le Bourget airport in Paris (that's where Charles Lindbergh would land in 1927, and is still open, business jets only), Mockford chose the French phrase "Venez m'aider", Come to my aid. "May Day" is an English corruption of the French phrase.
Now, when given as a distress call it is said three times, to avoid confusion, since the conditions under which it is given are likely fairly confused already. Therefore, to honour the practice, I said it only twice since this is not a distress call.
However, May Day as a day has long had varying significances. Well here they are. The original May Day was a Roman (as in Empire, not Church, though it is sometimes hard to tell the difference) festival of Flora, goddess of flowers. The word flora is still the botanical term for plants, and is the basis of the word for flower in Latin derived languages, such as the Spanish flor. Floralia, the feast, happened on IV Kalends of May, which is between what we call 27 April to 3 May, and was associated with springtime, new life, fertility, end of Winter, all that good stuff.
Others also had Spring-is-here-hooray goings-on. Our good friends the Germans had Walpurgisnacht, Walpurgis Night. What in all flying Judas is that? Well the custom was pretty common among Germanic types, like the Vikings, and included bonfires to keep away pesky spirits and celebrate the return of light etc. Ain't got nuttin to do with the name though.
Walpurga Day (and Night).
Walpurga was an English girl, who went with her uncle Boniface and some other English guys from Devon, that southwestern tip of Mother England, whose language at the time was Germanic (this is well before the Norman Conquest changed everything) so some of them set off to evangelise the German people, who were not Christian then. She was Benedictine (of course). Her dad stuck her in the Benedictine convent at Wimborne Abbey (still there, sort of, the original women's nunnery was trashed by the Danes in 1013, the rest appropriated by the "Church of England" when that was invented) at age 11 so he and her two brothers could go off on one of those blasted pilgrimages to the "Holy Land", so dad is known as St Richard the Pilgrim.
Due to her education, she was able to write an account of their travels, making her the first known female author, English or German. Her brothers had founded a Benedictine monkery for men and women both in Heidenheim, in Bavaria, of which she eventually became abbess. She died there on 25 February 777, or 779 depending on who's counting, which was and still is in some places her feast day.
But her remains were dug up and moved -- this is known by the more elegant phrase "translation of the relics" -- on 1 May, and as the Christianisation of Europe proceeded, that became her feast day in many places, and the coming of light became associated with her feast day, so that the bonfires and the clergy of the indigenous religion -- witches, pejoratively -- had to scatter with the coming of St Walpurga's Day, May Day. Hence Walpurgis Night, the night before as a last big blow out. No word on special flights to Blocksberg for those whose brooms are in the shop.
Another related celebration is the Celtic Beltane. So, build a bonfire, dance around the May pole -- now there's a phallic fertility symbol for you, and related to the sacred tree thing of pre-Christian Germanic types. Boniface (whose real name was Winifred) supposedly cut down Thor's Sacred Oak in 723 but we still have Thor's Day, Thursday, or Donnerstag, his German name being Donner. Or, make a May basket of sweets, but instead of for Flora leave it on somebody's doorstep anonymously, maybe for your own choice to be Queen of the May.
Maia and Mary crowning.
Speaking of which, that practice survives in some Catholic circles as May crowing, where a crown is put on a statue of Mary, who has the whole month of May dedicated to her. Wasn't always Mary though. May is actually named from the Greek fertility goddess Maia, or Maia Maiestas in Latin, and in Rome (as in Empire, not Church, though yeah it's hard to tell the difference) the first and fifteenth of the month were her holy days. Not sure what Miriam (Mary) the mother of Jesus would think of being a reconstituted Maia, but it probably ain't good. Do whatever he tells you, she said, and he didn't say bupkis about nuttin like this.
International Worker's Day.
Alternatively, May Day is also International Worker's Day. This celebrates the victories of the labour movement, especially the recognition of the eight-hour workday. The date was chosen by the Second International, an association of socialist and labour movements, in 1889. Why 1 May? To commemorate the executions of some of the participants in a strike for the eight hour day on 4 May 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago. Hey, didn't I say 4 May, not 1 May? Yes I did. However this particular strike was one of many throughout the land, as the eight-hour workday was supposed to become standard 1 May 1886 and that is when strikes in support of it began. On 4 May at the Chicago one, someone tossed a bomb at the police line -- this is the origin of the phrase "bomb throwing anarchist" -- and it is unknown how many actually died. Among the four eventually executed by hanging for the incident, none was the "bomb throwing anarchist".
Feast of St Joseph the Worker.
The Roman Catholic Church reconstituted that too (they do that a lot). To counter International Worker's Day, in 1955 along with his (in)famous revisions of the Holy Week liturgy, Pope Pius XII abolished the feast of St Joseph as patron of the universal church established in 1870 by Pope Pius IX for the Wednesday of the second week after Easter and created a feast of St Joseph the Worker to be celebrated on 1 May, also thereby boofing the feast of Saints Philip and James from that date.
All that said, why not make a little basket of sweets for your sweetheart and give it to her as a surprise. And, if you go to an eight-hour workday, remember that the eight-hour workday didn't happen because the forces of the market efficiently and enlightenedly produced it, but because some people worked damned hard to bring it about in the marketplace despite its forces.
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