Saturday, April 16, 2011

May Day

I guess it’s in my blood…or in the genes, anyway. The first day of May carries some significance to me.

In earlier times, residents of the British Isles noted the first day of May with reveling and celebrations. This tradition carried over to the New World and people in Maritime Canada and Maine held their May Day celebrations.

Old-time Maine folks will recall hanging May baskets on doors and then knocking. When the object of their affection saw the basket, that person would pursue the one who hung the basket. The end of this process culminated in a kiss.

Another old-fashioned pastime on May 1 involved hunting for Mayflowers. These are the tubular, sweet-scented blooms of trailing arbutus. Often hidden beneath fallen leaves from the previous fall, Mayflowers are not always easy to find. The hunt, then, carried a certain degree of excitement, anticipation and finally, the eventual reward upon locating blooming arbutus.

People also erected Maypoles. These were wrapped in colorful streamers. Dancing around the Maypole was a traditional part of our May Day celebration.

I am fortunate enough to have in my possession, a record of Music Of The Scottish Court, 1550-1625. The title tune on this classic recording is “O Lusty May.” Here is a stanza from that venerable tune, presented in modern English rather than the original King James style:

“Of all the months of the year
To mirthful May there is no peer
Her glistening garments are so gay
You lovers all make merry cheer”

While I don’t know anyone today who could give two hoots about May Day, I continue to celebrate in my own fashion. To that end, I play my tabor and pipe. This is an ancient instrument, very much present in medieval courts as well as in rural towns and villages throughout England Scotland and also on the Continent. The combination figured prominently into May Day celebrations.

The tabor is a drum, held by slinging a rope over the left wrist. The pipe is a fipple-style flute, played with the left hand. The right hand beats a lively tempo on the drum. It’s like walking, chewing gum and rubbing your head and belly at once. But I can do it. Practice makes perfect, don’t you know?

I wish I had a way of playing my tabor and pipe for you. Perhaps some day, technology will allow me to do so.

Anyway, no matter the weather, I intend, as I always do, to go outside, take in nature and walk about, playing May Day tunes on my tabor and pipe.

Such lovely little traditions as these make life worth living. I find it sad that we drift further and further from such things.

1 comment:

  1. May Day baskets in my time were always hand made and filled with candies and chocolate. We would hang the baskets on every mother on the street. And, as you say, they first spot the basket and then catch us with a kiss. Thank you for helping me remember happydays of long ago.
    I wish this tradition did not go the wayside as it has. Thanks Tom, Marie LeClair