May Day in Cerne Abbas village in Dorset

Tomorrow is May Day when spring is to be celebrated by dancing around a pole, wearing a flower wreath, arranging a bouquet, celebrating workers or honoring the Virgin Mary. It depends on where you’re from and when you grew up.

When my mother was a girl growing up in Appalachian Kentucky, she dressed in a white dress to dance around a May pole during a school-wide celebration. Early settlers of her town were steeped in the culture of Ireland, Scotland and England, so a May Day spin off in Celtic traditions was a natural fit. Here’s a YouTube video from last year’s May Day celebration in Cerne Abbas village in Dorset, England where folk dancing and the May Pole are still traditions.

May Day: Do You Have Your May Pole Ready

May Day is next Tuesday. Historically, it was a pagan holiday to celebrate the first plantings of spring and, of course, fertility until the Catholic Church nixed the traditions. Peasants though persevered for awhile. Originally, this was a grand day for feasting and games. A May Queen was crowned and wearing masks and dancing around a May Pole was part of the fun.

Eventually, the day became a working class holiday in 1889. This started as a movement in Paris to commemorate the Haymarket Martyrs. The movement grew until May Day became an international workers holiday. How do I know all this? I read “The Origins and Traditions of May Day” by Eugene W. Plawiuk. I seem to remember some of these facts from somewhere before.

When my mom was a child, May Day was celebrated in her hometown in Appalachian Kentucky. Girls wore white dresses and danced around the May Pole and someone was crowned queen. In the part of the U.S. where she grew up there is a large Scotch/Irish population which might explain the tradition. These days, I don’t think May Day is a big deal there, but May Day events do give people a reason to get out and dance elsewhere. I love the mood of this photo by Rodnic66 that I found on Flickr. I did find some photos of May Poles, but these kids made me smile.

If you are in Mystic, Connecticut on May 5, you can take in the annual May Day Parade. The Mystic Garland Dancers will dance around the May Pole as part of the event.

In Oklahoma, you can make your own May Pole at Bernice State Park tomorrow, April 28. I’d be there if I didn’t live here. Besides a May Pole, you can make a May Day Basket.

Spring Equinox Ritual Celebration

As I’m blowing my nose, yet again, wondering when this cold might end, and lamenting that yesterday’s 70 degrees and sunny has turned into today’s blustery grey complete with snowflakes, I’m thinking, “I could really use some spring renewal.”

I came across an event that would do just that. At Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in southwestern Wisconsin, the Welcome Spring Festival, March 24, is a tribute to the Spring Equinox. This is a child-friendly event with crafts, nature walks, egg hunts, house-cleaning rituals and shared food. It sounds homey and nurturing which I think is the point.

The Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve is not open for public use on most days, but during festivals, everyone is welcome. You do need to register. The sanctuary, on 200 acres of forested hills is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to nature preservation and healing. If you’re interested in finding out more information about the sanctuary and other spirit gatherings the website has much information.

Pancake Week (Maslenitsa) is Party Time in Moscow

Pancake Week is almost here. From February 15 to 18, Maslenitsa, the Russian equivalent of Mardi Gras, will turn Moscow’s streets into a carnival of singing, dancing and entertainment. This party attitude in February started back in pagan times and became part of Eastern Orthodoxy when Christianity took over celebrations with a nature worshiping angle. Now, it marks the pre-stages of Lent.

With Russia’s political history (I would guess) Maslenitsa hit a dry spell for about 85 years and passed by without much brouhaha. Not anymore. Since 2002, it’s back in force and some. Central, of course, are pancakes. The Russian version is blini which are served up with either caviar, mushrooms, jam and plenty of butter. Like with any pagan turned Christian holiday there is symbolism behind the food. Pancakes represent the sun and warmth as winter is coming to an end. Each day of the traditional holiday also has a particular meaning. I came across that gives a detailed overview of each day and provides recipes so you can whip up some blini yourself.

Besides eating blini and giving blini to friends and family, fist fighting is also a Maslenitsa activity. This is not a fist fight fest where everyone whams on each other, but some sort of organized happening, meaning if you head to Moscow at this time, I don’t think you’ll have to duck.

Dancing bears, sleigh rides, fireworks and more are also part of the week’s events. For more info, since I’ve really just touched on a few highlights, click here for a more indepth overview of the festival’s history and traditions.