May Day (M’Aidez)

3 May

I’ve read a lot of historical fiction in my time. Too much, probably. Especially during my formative years. As a kid I read a lot of Rosemary Sutcliff‘s books, the earliest of which are so very English and charming and achingly nostalgic that I spent far, far too much time daydreaming about what it would be like to live in Tudor London, wear a kirtle and spend my days working on a sampler.

It’s been a cold, grey, miserable spring so far but then yesterday, May Day, the weather suddenly smartened up. The trees have finally put forth quivering, fragile, little buds, so tiny and compact that it’s hard to believe that they’ll ever unfurl enough to provide any kind of shade. The magnolias are starting to open their pinky-purple blossoms, and the bluebells, crocuses and daffodils are everywhere.

All of this gives me a funny sort of heartache, like I’m missing out on something that I’ve never known, and never will know.

Oh, I know that it’s ridiculous, and I’m thirty, and when am I ever going to grow the hell up, but you guys? I wish that May Day was still a thing. I want to go out before dawn and bring in the May. I want to sing madrigals as the sun is coming up. I want maypoles and morris dancers and May Queens and all of that stupid shit. I want bonfires, and the moon, and the cold, starry sky. I mean, we don’t even get to have stars anymore. At least not in the city, anyway.

I guess what I really want is some kind of communal way to celebrate the coming of spring. I want to be able to mark the passage of the year, from the barrenness of winter through the promise of spring and the fullness of summer to the dead lands of autumn and then all the way back to winter again. I want some way of measuring my life other than stingy little increments of twenty four hours, each hour chopped up and neatly ticked out in precise little seconds. I’m so tired of days – Mondays, workdays, weekdays, holidays, day, days, days. They seem so cold, so clinical, so entirely devoid of meaning.

I taught a late class tonight, and as I walked home the air was warm and heavy with the scent of fresh earth and flowers. Through open windows I could hear soft laughter and the clink of dishes, sounds of happiness and comfort. The kids were all out tonight, smoking pot on park benches, their bored, drawling voices floating towards me on the breeze. Some of them were playing on the swings, their sneakers flashing as they swung in and out of the streetlights’ glow, always daring each other to further, faster, higher.

Everything is unbearably lovely, much more lovely than it should be. Nights like this make me feel as if something ought to be made out of them – a story, a song, a play. Otherwise, what purpose do they serve? Surely they don’t just exist for our enjoyment. Surely we’re meant to do something with them, meant to find a way to explain or celebrate their perfection.

I get so damn tired of feelings sometimes, the way they crash over you, threaten to drown you, and then slowly recede, leaving you wet and stinking and covered in seaweed. I think that in my next life I’m going to come back as a robot that’s incapable of feeling obligation or regret. I think that that would be nice.

Queen Guinevere's Maying by John Collier

Queen Guinevere’s Maying by John Collier

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45 Responses to “May Day (M’Aidez)”

  1. Su Leslie May 3, 2013 at 3:41 am #

    Totally with you; I lament the lack of festivals in our culture. I dream of moving to some little Spanish Village with endless Saints’ Days grafted onto the seasonal datum lines that nature’s given us. Or maybe I’ll just make my own celebrations, like a Wiccan friend whom I just celebrated a Southern Hemisphere Halloween with.

    • bellejarblog May 3, 2013 at 3:45 am #

      Southern Hemisphere Hallowe’en sounds great!

      My grandmother lives in Spain – maybe I should move in with her. Or just get in touch with my French background and start celebrating St. Catherine’s day and all that jazz.

      • Su Leslie May 3, 2013 at 3:48 am #

        Absolutely. Any excuse to celebrate just being alive. When my son was a baby, we wanted to have a ceremony for him – not a christening cos we’re not really Christians – but something to introduce him to our community. We called it Naming Day, invented a format, pinched some good ideas from other festivities, and got a good friend to MC. What I remember most of her speech was an impassioned plea to create more celebrations to fill the void we’ve also created by commercialising or ignoring the festivals we used to have.

  2. Valerie Quast May 3, 2013 at 4:08 am #

    May Day (or Beltane as I know it!) is still a thing if you’re Wiccan! 🙂

    On Thu, May 2, 2013 at 8:22 PM, The Belle Jar

  3. Kylie May 3, 2013 at 4:35 am #

    This reminds me of the brief period I wanted to be a pagan in college. I’d gone to a talk, and thought it sounded like a good way to get in tune with the seasons. We’ve lost so many traditions and rituals. Atheist and cynic that I am, I still feel we need them to survive. I’ve always loved the idea of a maypole, and leaving flowers on people’s doorsteps…. Did you ever read “A Time to Keep” by Tasha Tudor? One of my favorite books as a child. So lovely.

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

      I did the pagan thing in high school. We went out into the woods, drew a circle in the snow and said some words. Afterwards we ate granola bars. It was cold outside and it felt like a total letdown, but I also remember being like, DON’T TELL MY MOM.

      But yeah, agnostic and cynic that I am, I think that we need ritual. We need festivals and ways of marking time and rites of passage. But I don’t know how to go about getting them back.

      I’ve never read A Time To Keep – but I will for sure look for it now!

      • Kylie May 4, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

        It’s a really sweet old book. Do you have a blue moon tattooed anywhere by any chance? Go through a Mists of Avalon phase?

  4. hitandrun1964 May 3, 2013 at 4:43 am #

    Find like minded people and get busy. Nothing stopping you from making your dream come true. A little work and you can have what you want…just have to make it happen.

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

      Yeahhhh but I want everyone in on it! Just a big old party in the street. I have a distinct lack of street parties in my life.

  5. Miriam May 3, 2013 at 4:43 am #

    I was just talking with a friend at the park the other day, about how I didn’t really miss religion in our life, but I sometimes wished we had more rituals. She’s atheist and I’m a liberal Christian who doesn’t go to church, but we both agreed about the craving for ritual, for tradition. Our society feels so soulless sometimes, that’s the problem. But creating my own rituals feels forced or fake, too.
    I’m Finnish-American, and I’m pretty sure May Day is a big deal in Finland. I remember reading once about it, and wishing so bad that I was there instead of here.
    May Day was a bust here in Colorado- we had a snowstorm.

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

      I definitely feel the need for rituals, and the types of rites of passage that religion provides. There must be an alternative (I guess just create our own?) but I haven’t figured it out yet. Life feels kinda empty without them.

      And ew, snow. My sympathies to you!

  6. Damian Davidson (@blamoboy) May 3, 2013 at 6:15 am #

    You know what? Up until I was about 10 my school used to put on May Day celebrations. We learnt country dances, there was a Maypole…I really miss the celebration of it all. I’m all for more pageantry!

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

      YEAH BUT THAT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE BRITISH. WHY AM I NOT BRITISH? CANADA SUCKS.

  7. Writer / Mummy May 3, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    “I get so damn tired of feelings sometimes, the way they crash over you, threaten to drown you, and then slowly recede, leaving you wet and stinking and covered in seaweed.”

    Oh yes. So very well said.

  8. Sarah Irving May 3, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    “I get so damn tired of feelings sometimes, the way they crash over you, threaten to drown you, and then slowly recede, leaving you wet and stinking and covered in seaweed.”

    Oh god yes. Wouldn’t it be great to just cauterise the little bastards out of oneself and live a lovely clean, cerebral life? When they make a drug that does that I am so there.

    And I am also so much in agreement with everything you said about rituals – I’m always ever-so-slightly jealous when Jewish friends invite me for Seder or Friday night dinner, or Muslim friends for Iftar during Ramadan. I know some people who’ve had good experiences with celebrants from the Humanist Society for naming or wedding ceremonies, but my own experiences with ‘neo-Pagan’ versions have been a bit… cringey.

    Am slightly confused as to why Rosemary Sutcliff made you want to go all Tudor-maiden. I though most of her stuff was Rome, prehistoric Britain or ‘Dark Ages’?

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

      Her earlier stuff was Tudor-y – my two favourites were The Armourer’s House and The Queen Elizabeth story, but of which are sadly out of print (but I have copies – two copies of each! heh heh heh).

      I love the Roman and prehistoric Britain stuff too, though.

  9. The British Asian Blog May 3, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    As a British Asian I can tell you if there isn’t a lack of something that would be the rituals, culture and religion which celebrates the environments and the various stages nature goes through. Although May Day isn’t a big deal for Asian it has started to for British Asians – but there are other parts of the weather cycle that are awaited for and celebrated.

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

      When I was a teenager I took Mandarin for three years for high school credits. It was a Saturday morning class and I was seriously the only white kid in the class. It was amazing, though – I especially loved learning to celebrate things like the Mid Autumn Festival. Moon cakes! So great!

  10. katalina4 May 3, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    Beautiful gorgeous post, and wonderful sentiment – I love your yearning for ritual and dance and expansion and wild expressiveness, the resistance to rigid compartments, the longing to lose oneself…but forget about the robot. Robots don’t know how to have fun.

    • katalina4 May 3, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

      ps – apparently people on the West Coast actually do these things… http://wheresmybackpack.com/2013/05/02/may-day/

      • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 5:42 pm #

        Ugh, of course they do. Why am I not on the west coast?

      • katalina4 May 4, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

        Haha! Well, I don’t know bout you, but much as I yearn for frolicking, my eastern seaboard bones would never be caught dead dressed up like that…

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

      Thank you. And yeah, the Robot idea probably isn’t the best, but it’s tempting sometimes.

  11. S. A. Young May 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    Somewhat off-topic but I love your choice of illustration. I love Collier and I’m a huge fan of the Pre-Raphaelites in general, so thanks for that.

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

      Thanks! I also love the Pre-Raphaelites. ❤ Dante Rosetti.

  12. Leigh Sanders May 3, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    The art choice is exquisite. I agree we should have more festivals, I take the children to every event in my city that has the nerve to call itself a festival because I want them to know the joy of community. We are having a Maypole dance this weekend at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship I attend. Looking forward to it.

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

      Thank you! It’s such a lovely painting, plus I’m a sucker for anything Arthurian.

      And yes, this, exactly:

      “I take the children to every event in my city that has the nerve to call itself a festival because I want them to know the joy of community.”

      I want that too.

  13. She Curmudgeon May 3, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

    Your post conjured up some of the same feelings as today’s Writer’s Almanac poem– Smoke by Faith Shearin– and it makes me want to go out to Ye Olde Home Depot and buy a fire pit so I can sit near my lilacs and inhale their perfume at night. I’m tired of just admiring the moon at dawn before it’s set through the windshield of my car.

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

      Oh man I need to look up that poem! Thank you!

  14. Piper George May 3, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    May Day is still celebrated. My daughter has been practising all week. Her school parade the May Queen around the village with the whole school in procession and then dance around the maypole. It was postponed till next Wednesday but ill blog about it then!

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

      Huh! Are you in the UK? Maybe once my kid goes to school, he’ll get to do stuff like that, even here in Canada.

      I didn’t have it growing up, but I was in a French school so we had things like St. Catherine’s Day instead (also an excellent holiday, because it involves making CANDY).

      • Piper George May 4, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

        I am in the UK. When I was a child we did Maypole dancing, I think that was Brownies rather than the school though. My daughters school do a lot of traditional things, which I do like, but she goes to a traditional C of E school. The non-demoninational ones don’t do as many things.

  15. Piper George May 3, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    Brilliantly written. Well done. Can I ask what the new job is?
    I was forced out of my old hated job by redundancy and although I still haven’t worked out what I do want, I now know I like being self employed, I like being home with the kids after school and I can change jobs without the world ending.
    Good luck to you.

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

      Oh, I’m a yoga teacher! I was subbing a class for a friend, but it was quite late – 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, so that by the time I was on my way home it was nearing 10:00.

  16. Amanda May 3, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

    Oh, the feelings! They do crash in. They do. Today someone said something to me and I went from comfortable and confident to all out of sorts and uneasy. I called my friend, remembered that they were feelings and came back to a sense of balance and normalcy. I think it gets easier with practice and age. Imagine how normal and balanced I’ll be at 99.

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

      “Today someone said something to me and I went from comfortable and confident to all out of sorts and uneasy.”

      This happens to me all the time! Like, everything’s great and then I read an email or something and I’m suddenly totally blah.

  17. lucysfootball May 4, 2013 at 2:09 am #

    I was just thinking the same thing the other day. I have a friend in Europe, and there they celebrate May Day with funnel cake, mead, and the crowning of a nude statue. I was so sad we don’t do any sort of pagan ritual at all to usher in spring. I think I need to start one of my own.

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

      Funnel cake, mead and nudity all sound excellent. We need to figure out how to import this to North American…

  18. Ann Knudson May 4, 2013 at 6:38 am #

    The best historical fiction I ever read was Dorothy Dunnett’s six-book Lymond Chronicles series, which starts with ‘The Game of Kings,’ set in Scotland in 1547. If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend it.
    The Swedish-American society here has a Lucia Fest in December and a maypole at midsummer. You’re invited to join us if you like, Swedish or not.

    • bellejarblog May 4, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

      I haven’t read it – definitely adding it to my list!

      Where’s the Swedish-American society? Maybe I’ll take you up on your offer 🙂

  19. Kristyn May 5, 2013 at 4:36 am #

    The university where I teach has a May Day celebration complete with a May Pole and Queen. So, it’s not completely dead, but our celebration is also small and draws a small crowd each year. Though it’s not quite enough to fulfill my fanciful daydreams about times past–something we appear to share–it’s still nice to see it’s not completely forgotten.

    We even celebrated Holi this year, colors and all, which drew quite a big crowd. I doubt it’s anything like what you would experience in India, but it was our way of paying homage to the cultural influences and celebrations around us. Very neat!

  20. mamacardinal May 6, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    “Everything is unbearably lovely, much more lovely than it should be. Nights like this make me feel as if something ought to be made out of them – a story, a song, a play. Otherwise, what purpose do they serve? Surely they don’t just exist for our enjoyment. Surely we’re meant to do something with them, meant to find a way to explain or celebrate their perfection.”

    I love this quote so much. I spent this weekend enjoying Beltaine and my own personal May Day festivities. In Florida, May 1st was plagued with humidity and ongoing intervals of heavy down pours, thunder and lightning. But this past weekend, Nature blessed we Floridians with cool breezes and a beautiful bright sunny sky. No oppressive heat to keep us indoors and in the air condition.

    As a pagan, I enjoy being a part of a small community that still marks the seasons and moons with party and passion. But I do long for a more collective experience to share.

  21. allshrink May 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    By the time you wait for your turn in the next life, robots might be able to feel obligations and regrets. Better if we try to enjoy our seasons now.

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