Spring is in full bloom on May Day, all the flowers out, a big warm spell covering everything, the seeds coming up. Some of the key metaphors for May Day – fertility, emancipation, the full-flowering tree of life that connects earth and sky – show up in many cultures around the world. For those looking to reconnect to some of these traditions, below are some suggestions:
1. Plant a tree and tell a story: The tree of life – with roots deep within the earth and branches reaching up to support the heavens – is a key part of midspring rituals and stories throughout the world. In the Pacific Northwest, Native Americans told the story of spiderwoman, an old woman whose weaving created and held the world in place. In Spiderwoman by Anne Cameron, the world begins to slip from its place and old spiderwoman works and works to weave a web to hold it. Once it’s done, she hangs this web from the tallest tree she can find so that she can secure the world to the heavens. Even today, Cameron says, we can still find spiders in the branches of trees, keeping the world balance.
2. Go out early and collect flowers and flowering branches to decorate your home. In this Beltane ritual popular in pre-Christian (and even post-Christian) Europe, young girls went out early to wash their faces with spring dew, and young men went to collect flowers and branches to decorate the village before dancing and feasting around the May Pole (another representation of the Tree of Life and the web of life). Celebrate fertility, your mother, mother earth and life in full bloom.
3. Celebrate emancipation and resist oppression: May Day is a bank holiday in many countries because it has often been a day when workers gathered and rebelled against unfair and oppression labor laws. In America, the Haymarket massacre of 1886 took place in Chicago on May 4 after a few days of country-wide strikes in favor of the 8 hour work day. What started as a peaceful demonstration in Chicago, turned into a riot after someone threw dyamite at police, leaving several police and civilians dead. A group of “anarchists” were later tried and sentenced to death. But the 8-hour day was eventually put into law. Many consider this the beginning of many labor activities and gatherings world-wide on May 1. The association of spring rituals with emancipation can be seen in many of the Judeo-Christian religions, too. At Passover seder, we see this so clearly in the story of the Jews emancipation from slavery, the dipping of the egg of new life in the salt water, representing the tears of past enslavement. Protest poverty and social inequality. Or share something that you have too much of with someone who has too little.