Saturday, April 30, 2011

May Day and Maypoles

Every May 1st historians generally agree that May Day celebrations probably originated in ancient Rome. May Day occurred the same time of year marking the celebrations honoring the goddess of spring, ”Flora.” By the Middle Ages, the day was celebrated with a procession led by a “Queen of the May”. She was chosen from a population of teen girls, followed by the townspeople dancing around a Maypole which was decorated with streamers and colorful spring flowers.

The Maypole is a tall wooden pole (maple or birch tree) erected to celebrate May Day or Midsummer. It may be decorated with several long colored ribbons suspended from the top, festooned with flowers, draped in greenery, hung with large circular wreaths, or adorned with other decorations of the region. It is most popular in Germany, Spain, France, Sweden, Austria, England, USA, and many other countries. In Italy, May Day is called “Albro della cuccagna“ which translates in English as “trees from the land of milk and honey.” May Day, is a public holiday all over Italy as the day of the worker. Many services will be closed but you may find interesting parades and festivals to celebrate the day. Maypole Dancing is now regarded as the most 'traditional' of May Day's characteristics.

In the United States today, a Maypole Dance is an important part of many Elementary, Secondary or High School celebrations. Often the Maypole dance will be accompanied by other dances as part of a presentation to the public. Since 1929, graduating seniors at Portales High School in Portales, New Mexico wind the Maypole. This school is the only high school in the country that has performed this event for more than eight consecutive decades.

When I was in elementary school, (PS 107 in Flushing, Queens, New York) our class had many May Day celebrations. It took place in the school yard and all the grades participated. Many of my readers will remember my grandmother “Nanni” who I have written about in past posts on my blog. For those who do not know her story, I will tell you a little about her. Nanni’s profession was a milliner and an interior decorator. She made hats for those of you who do not know what a milliner does.
She was very creative and had a flare for making beautiful things. She had her own business which was called “Roberta Originals.” Well, one year she had heard that my school wanted to have a May Day celebration. She thought that it would be a wonderful idea if she made and donated the Maypole for the children to use for the celebration. She spoke to the school and they agreed. So she made this huge very colorful Maypole. She attached streamers of colorful ribbons on the top and added decorations to the pole which gave it just the right touch. I was so proud that my grandmother (Nanni) made this for my school. I remember all of my friends saying that I was very lucky to have a grandmother that made such a beautiful Maypole. After it was made, and the school had possession of it, we learned how to dance around it to create the braided ribbons. My family came to see the classes perform with the Maypole in the school yard that spring. If I remember correctly it was in the 1960’s. My parents took movies and photos of the Maypole celebration, but to no avail I have not found any photos yet. I have been searching for them in my parent’s photo albums and boxes. If I find them I will post them on my blog.

If you’re a teacher or anyone else looking to throw your own May Day celebration and you’d like to include maypole dancing, it is fairly simple to get your own pole up and running, you will need a wooden pole with some sort of knob fastened to the top. Try to make your pole at least 7 or 8 feet high, and anchor it firmly into the ground so the pull of the dancers’ ribbons doesn’t make it topple over.
Tie the ribbons to the top of the pole securely, and hand the end of each ribbon to a child.
Children can then braid the ribbons around the pole as they are dancing, and then retrace their steps to unwind it again if so desired.
Maypole dancing is an enjoyable activity the whole family can get involved in. From constructing your own pole to visiting a local celebration that includes this dance style. Consider making May Day a tradition in your home this spring.

Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II Beatification Ceremony is also May 1, 2011.Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to flock to Rome and Vatican City to witness the ceremony. If you are interested and want more information on the Beatification of Pope John Paul II check out the Beatification Events Guide on

Great Grandmother Sofia 1898

Enjoy dancing the Maypole and the Raisin Loaf cake...Till next time.....

Now, I have a very unforgettable recipe to share with you. It is called a Raisin Loaf Cake. This recipe belonged to my great grandmother Sofia. It is very good especially with a cup of coffee or tea. The raisins become plump and sweet. Plus the aroma of the loaf cake baking in the oven brings back memories of home, family, and fun mainly May Pole Dancing.

Raisin Loaf Cake

1 ½ cups of water
2 tablespoons of Crisco
½ lb raisins
2 eggs
1 cup of sugar
4 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda

Great Grandmother Sofia 1950's
Put 1 ½ cups of water in pot. Then add 2 tablespoons of Crisco and raisins. Let them come to a boil, then cool off for at least 5 minutes.
Beat 2 eggs, 1 cup of sugar. Then add the water mixture to the eggs. Once that is mixed then add the 4 cups of flour and the baking powder/ baking soda. Mix all together and then put in greased and floured baking pan.
Bake in oven at 350 ° for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Then let cool for at least 30 minutes.

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