May Day! Traditionally, this was the day when summer began. ‘Now is the month of Maying, when merry lads are playing’, went the old song: Summer – at last! This was the time for rejoicing at the final defeat of darkness and winter, for letting down the hair, dancing round the Maypole and (according to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable) for ‘spending the day in archery, Morris dancing and other amusements.’ And – apart from lads’ amusements – there was a May Queen, chosen from among the girls of the community, who would lead the May procession dressed in white.
As with many folk customs, the origins of May Day celebrations are ancient, lost in time. But it’s clear that they go back as far as the Romans, whose May Day rituals honoured Flora, goddess of flowers and crops. May Day and fertility go together. So it’s not a huge step from these ancient and secular celebrations to the notion in Catholic religious culture of May as Mary’s Month, the month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus.
Any talk of celebration might seem out of place while Covid-19 continues to ravage our population. But we need to think of other things. Yesterday evening a BBC news presenter moved with visible, physical relief from the dreadful Covid fatality figures to the extraordinary, heart-warming story of Captain, now Colonel, Tom. What character! What spirit!