Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Welcome to the Month of May

     In early Europe, May 1 marked the first day of summer. The summer solstice on June 21 was actually considered midsummer. May Day was a time to celebrate the fertility of the earth -- both for spring planting and for human sexual activity.

     Pagan villagers danced around the Maypole, a symbol that historians have been trying to interpret for centuries. One theory is that the Maypole symbolized the axis of the earth; another says it represented the trees that figured so prominently in the Germanic tradition. Or, as many have suggested, it may have been a phallic symbol representing fertility. Check out the youtube clip at the end of the post to see which interpretation Lerner & Loewe most likely relied on when penning the classic from Camelot.

     May 1 is also a day of solidarity for workers around the world. The origin of this commemoration goes back to the Haymarket massacre.

     In the 1880s, the U. S. Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions declared that a full workday should be limited to eight hours. When factories refused to cooperate, on May 1, 1886, thousands of workers went on strike. Two days later Chicago police opened fire on a group of strikers, killing six people. The next day a bomb exploded and killed several cops, leading to more police attacks. The person who set the bomb was never identified, but eight workers were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Four of them were executed; one committed suicide; and three were eventually pardoned. On May 1, 1890, sympathizers held demonstrations throughout Europe and America to memorialize the Haymarket massacre, and in the years that followed socialists, unionists -- and now Occupy Wall Streeters -- have celebrated May Day as an international workers' holiday.

     May is also National Bike Month, which is dedicated to the "power of the bicycle and the many reasons we ride." The week of May 14 - 18 is Ride Your Bike to Work Week.

     May is also Get Caught Reading Month, as well as Asian and Pacific Islander month. The first week of May was named Asian American Heritage Week by Congress in 1978, to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in 1843 as well as the contribution of many Chinese Americans who helped build the first transcontinental railroad, completed in May 1869.

     May 1 also marks the birthday of some famous musicians, including Kate Smith (1907), Judy Collins (1939), Rita Coolidge (1945) and Tim McGraw (1967).

     But perhaps most important for us geezers, the U. S. Administration on Aging has declared May Older Americans Month, which it calls "a proud tradition that shows our nation's commitment to recognizing the contributions and achievements of older Americans." Every year brings a different theme. Last year it was "Connecting the Community. This year the theme is "You're Never Too Old to Play."

     Hmm, never too old to play, huh? Okay, I guess I owe it to my fellow older Americans -- I will go out and play golf today.

     P. S. As a follow-up to my two postings on the cost of health care, take a look at Sunday's New York Times article "In Hopeful Sign, Health Spending Is Flattening Out." But the question:  Is it a good sign because health care might be getting marginally more affordable? Or is it a bad omen since the reasons are largely due to the recession, when people lost health insurance and skipped nonurgent care?

     Now for that clip from the 1967 movie version of Camelot, starring Vanessa Redgrave :


Olga said...

Hurray for May.

schmidleysscribblins,wordpress.com said...

We just completed 'The Fall of the House of Labor' by David Montgomery for my grad history class. The Haymarket Affair marked the end of public sympathy for the labor movement. After that event, the federal government sided with business, hence a number of Supreme Court rulings we live with today. No one likes violence it seems, and that was one violent affair.


Stephen Hayes said...

May always seems like the month of great possibilities. I feel more creative as an artist and writer in May than I do any other time of year.

Arkansas Patti said...

Love the idea of getting caught reading, why not while riding a bike.
How about that. I finally get a whole month. Yipee.
Really interesting and some very sad facts. Thanks.

gabbygeezer said...

Tra la.