May Day! May Day!

It’s May Day. You know, Beltane, fertility rites — at least some harmless dancing around a Maypole.
Unless you’re Catholic, and then it’s not nearly as much fun. Ancient pagan May Day festivities, which celebrated sexuality, were watered down by Christians (especially Catholics) into long lines of children carrying and/or strewing flowers in procession toward a statue of the Queen of Heaven — a virgin, of all things.
It’s really ironic that I, who, if I celebrated May Day at all, would prefer the Beltane way rather than the watered-down version, was, for several years running, the pre-teen girl who carried the wreath of flowers that crowned the statue of Queen of the May at the end of the procession.
I hated being the crown-bearer. I’d break out in hives on April 30, and my mom would have to make me soak in a tub full of baking soda solution. But my folks were prominent in the parish. I was expected — forced — to play my role as well.
That’s why I love the movie The Polish Wedding. The movie climaxes on a Catholic May Day event much different from any I experienced. It ends the way I wish mine did.
My mom hated the movie.
And this is what I remember singing the last time I walked down that aisle carring the crown and itching like crazy under my long, pale green taffeta dress:
O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May,
O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.
Of Mothers the dearest,
Oh, wilt thou be nearest,
When life with temptation
Is darkly replete?
Forsake us, O never!
Our hearts be they ever
As Pure as the lilies
We lay at thy feet.

Oh my. May Day! May Day!
And lest we forget,
…..May Day is not just about the arrival of spring. It is also 1880s workers demanding humane treatment; it is men and women around the world marching in solidarity against the factory owners who would have them work all day, every day but Sunday; it is anarchists, socialists, and leftists of every kind working together within the labor movement. This association of May Day with radicalism is ultimately what led to it being downplayed in contemporary accounts, while Labor Day remains as a state-sanctioned holiday.
The first May Day, in 1886, was a call for eight-hour workdays by the workers in many American cities; it is now mostly associated with the Haymarket Martyrs. A bomb thrown by an unknown person at a labor rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square killed one policeman; authorities rounded up whom they considered to be the leaders of the local labor movement and put them on trial. Mother Jones said of the incident: “The workers asked only for bread and a shortening of the long hours of toil. The agitators gave them visions. The police gave them clubs.” …..

Mother Jones. Now’s she’s a real May Day Queen.

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