May 1 has been celebrated in various places around the world for thousands of years. While it is not a major holiday in the United States, many a school has appointed a May Queen and has had a traditional May Pole. Old yearbooks and school records often include pictures of the festivities.  This celebration gradually petered out after WWII.


May 1 has always had elements of fertility ritual and the rebirth of spring as a central theme. Like many holidays May Day has pagan connections. Perhaps the most well known ritual comes from the Druids and is the festival of Beltane. A new village fire was set, the animals were purified and couples did what couples do in a most celebratory way.


Other sources accredit May Day to ancient rituals in India and Egypt. It stands to reason that all early civilizations celebrated the rites of Spring, crops, and fertility in general.


The Romans celebrated Floralia, a 5 day holiday that was dedicated to Flora, the goddess of flowers. When they marched in to the British Isles, their holiday became the prevailing festival so over time, Beltane and Floralia merged to become one holiday of ritual fire, flowers, maypoles, etc.


The Maypole has been a central theme of the day since Roman times. Each village competed to see who could bring in the largest Maypole. Larger towns and cities like London erected permanent Maypoles. During Puritan reign, however, the Maypoles were done away with, but returned when the Stuarts came into power. In France, the May tree became the Liberty Tree.  Gradually, the holiday became a day of fun and merriment for children rather than a day of fertility ritual.   



Today little attention is paid to May Day. During the 19th and 20th centuries schools participated in May Day activities with great gusto. Queens were selected and girls (the May Court) promenaded around the Maypole holding on to colorful streamers. It seems that when the women’s movement took hold, May Day celebrations stopped existing.


Does anyone have anything planned for this spring ritual? This May Day looks sort of gray and overcast from where I sit. Does anyone remember any official celebrations from the past?









13 Thoughts to “Happy May Day”

  1. Poor Richard

    FYI – Big fun on a small budget dept. Okra’s 2nd Annual New Orleans
    Jazz Festival will be held at the Harris Pavilion tomorrow
    2-10PM. Music, food, drink and a good time. More information on
    this and other activities in the Old Town Manassas area can
    be found on the Historic Manassas Inc. website.
    But, don’t think they have a May Pole – maybe next year. Any
    information on PWC/Manassas Cinco de Mayo events? Are those
    another casulty of the infamous “Resolution”.

  2. Chris

    @Poor Richard
    The Cinco de Mayo events must have been deported! 🙂

  3. Moon-howler

    Poor Richard, you are our historian here. What was done for May Day around Manassas back in the day?

    Who were the Queens of the May around these parts?

  4. Poor Richard

    Remember some years ago, when I was in elementary school, there was
    a combo May Day/field day, but think that fell out of favor
    with the awareness that others celebrated May 1st as
    International Worker’s Day – with its taint of communism or at
    least socialism.
    I do miss the Cinco de Mayo events – I thought they showed the
    rich heritage and talents of the Hispanic community, plus
    I loved the food – Taco Bell has never been good enough since then.
    Many cities like Chicago (GO CUBS!) have ethnic festivals
    on weekends the entire summer. One weekend Greek, the next Polish,
    then German, and Hispanic, etc. You can travel the world within
    five miles of where you live.

  5. Moon-howler

    Perhaps that is something to suggest to the founding fathers and mothers of Manassas. I remember seeing pictures of girls doing May Day type stuff. I don’t know what they did with the boys during that time. I remember hearing about May Day when I was in elementary school and maybe in first grade doing something in a circle but it is real vague. I rather like the pagan version. Not so fru fru.

  6. Chris

    We celebrated May Day at Manassas Christian in the early 70’s. We had a May Pole and spent the day outside. This was back in the days of just the one school on Signal Hill Rd. Kindergarten was taught in a house.
    I don’t remember such celebrations in the PWCPS. No big surprise there…I attended “Sudley University”. 😉

  7. Poor Richard

    Off topic, but in the Technology May Change But Not Human Nature Dept.

    R. Jackson’s Ratcliffe’s book, THIS WAS PRINCE WILLIAM, contains
    a reproduction of telephone listings for “The Manassas and Dumfries
    Telephone Company”, established March 1,1903. Exchanges for
    Occoquan, Canova, Dumfries and Manassas are listed, with a total
    of fourty-two subscribers. Among the rules and regulations is
    included the following directive: “Anyone through curiosity listening
    to conversations over the line, is respectively requested to
    keep the battery cut off, otherwise those using the line will
    be disturbed”.

  8. Poor Richard

    Back to May day: Has it been supplanted by Earth Day?
    Perhaps too much baggage with workers rights/Engels/communism/
    Haymarket riots/ and don’t even open the pagan thing. (And I just
    thought it was a great excuse to get outside and play).

  9. Moon-howler

    What are the Haymarket riots?

    That is hilarious about the eavesdropping on the telephone. I remember party lines and my first phone number.

  10. Gainesville Resident

    I remember party lines too. One of my relatives had one. I bet most people don’t know about them. What a pain that must have been sharing a line with your neighbor.

  11. Moon-howler

    It sure must have cut down on privacy. Perhaps people back then were more careful about what they said on the telephone. I believe people were more careful about what was said in public in general. They certainly chose their words more carefully.

  12. Chris

    @Gainesville Resident
    I remember visiting family and friends in WVa in the 1970’s, and couldn’t quite understand why these people weren’t answering the phone everytime it rang. Then once it was explained, I learned everybody’s rings. They were using wall phones that you had to speak into the wall mounted mouth piece, and hold the ear piece to you ear.

    I think most people were respectful of the party lines, but you always had those handful of nosey rosey’s that would listen in. I’m sure if we had party lines today there are many around these parts that would drive themselves crazy listening to others.

  13. Gainesville Resident

    Chris – you are right – I forgot about the part about the distinctive ring on a party line but you jogged my memory. Also, there was some special way of calling the other person on the party line – you didn’t dial there number but did something else – I forget exactly what. I think you are right – today everyone would be listening in to their neighbors on the party line. Also there would be huge fights if one person was hogging it. Seemed like it was something that worked well then, but wouldn’t stand much chance of working today.

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