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Bringing in The May

In Britain, the celebration of spring has a very long history. The old Celtic festival of Beltane signaled the end of winter and the coming of summer. It was the time when the cattle were turned out to their summer grazing pastures. Later, when the Romans occupied Britain, they introduced their own May feast for the worship of Flora, the goddess of flowers, and Maia, the goddess of spring for whom the month of May is named. So, gradually, the rituals of the Roman floralia were blended into Celtic Beltane rituals as a May festival. The result was the celebration of May Day and the traditions that developed around it.

"May Day Drill -- Normal and Collegiate Institute, Asheville, N.C.," (between 1910 and 1925) "Around the May Pole," ca. 1906

For instance, "Bringing in the May" meant going out into the woods and fields on May Eve, the night before May Day (May 1), to gather flowers and greenery for decorations and also to enjoy the many amorous possibilities of an unchaperoned night in the woods.

By the Middle Ages, every English village had its maypole. The earliest maypoles were tall trees stripped of their branches, and one village would vie with the next to produce the tallest one. On May Day itself, the maypole served as the centerpiece for sports, dancing and games that took place around it.

You have just read a snippet of a transcript of a presentation on the origins of May Day by Jennifer Cutting, a folklife specialist in the American Folklife Center. You can see and hear Cutting give her full presentation as a Webcast from the Library of Congress. After you listen to Cutting's fascinating talk, why not visit the Webcasts home page? There, you can find presentations to suit every taste and interest.

The American Folklife Center Web site is a rich resource for learning more about American culture. One page you won't want to miss offers resources for all the states, territories and District of Columbia. The center's page also links to the Sept. 11, 2001, Documentary Project, which captures the heartfelt reactions, eyewitness accounts and diverse opinions of Americans and others in the months that followed the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the crash of United Airlines Flight 93. Patriotism and unity mixed with sadness, anger and insecurity are common themes expressed in this online presentation of almost 200 audio and video interviews, 45 graphic items and 21 written narratives.

A. "May Day Drill -- Normal and Collegiate Institute, Asheville, N.C.," (between 1910 and 1925). Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-114378 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: SSF -- Holidays--May Day <item> [P&P]

B. "Around the May Pole," ca. 1906. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-76158 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: LOT 7142 [item] [P&P]