A poet friend reminded me that it’s May. May Day is celebrated this year on the 8th May but many countries around the world stick to the 1st of May. It is an ancient Spring festival celebrated with dances, singing and cake. I like the idea of cake!
I have very vivid memories of May Days. At school in the weeks leading up to May Day someone dragged out the maypole from somewhere, polished it up and restrung all the ribbons. We spend afternoons, ribbons In hand, girls and boys partnered up, dancing in and out and around creating coloured patterns on the pole. We never thought about any pagan traditions that are associated with maypoles and our only concerns on the fertility front was the other girls looking at who they were dancing with and dealing with the girly-giggles of “we all know who you are going to marry now”. There was always one dance that knotted the ribbons and an eagle-eyed teacher scrutinising the pole told us which way to walk, and who to circle round to untangle the mess.
I remember, on a May Day morning, listening to the peel of a bell and the bellow of a town crier, dressed up in May Day garb, calling us out to welcome the May Queen and to be there to see her crowned and to celebrate. I was never going to be a May Queen. I was never pretty enough. The only bit of it I envied was that she got to plant a tree. There are three of them planted along a patch of grass near to the path that leads to an alley on the way from the shop to my sister’s house. It’s opposite the church. Some of these trees are well over fifty years. I wonder how many people remember the girl who planted it.
The festivities were held on the village green. There was a smattering of stalls. The village green was, I think, reclaimed marshland. Rainy days did not suit maypole dancing and celebrations. No one enjoys squelching in wet grass in sandals, ankle socks and summer dresses. The venue moved to the Manor House with its formal gardens. It was a place to spark the imagination.
Those days seemed always to be sunny but seeing as we moved off the village green to the manor house they couldn’t have been. I simply look back on them as good days.
My poet friend has been writing and posting poems, Quarantine Quatrains, (four verses of four lines where lines one, two and four rhyme but the third one doesn’t) throughout the lockdown. He posted one about May Day focussed on bird song. Listening to the birds’ chittering brought out a longing for different things. Here’s his third verse
Long for the joys that I have yet to sing
Long for the sudden flight, the lifting wing,
Long for the songs of summers yet to come
Long for the freedom future days may bring.
(For a brief moment there I thought I would use the proper citing and referencing technique I have learned over the year for my degree course, but it stresses me out this getting the right order, the right punctuation marks in the right places.)
My longings during the lockdown have tended to be backward looking. I can’t see how we can ever get back to normal life. Covid 19 is not going anywhere for a while. It’s part of the fabric of life now. I see maypole dancing in my childhood and wonder if the maypole will now stay in the shed and ribbons left to decay.
When the Jews left Babylon to return to Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s watchful eye, they rebuilt the walls and started on the temple. In the back of their minds they thought the temple could never be as glorious as the one that once stood there. They got disheartened and focussed on building their own homes first. God spoke to Haggai and stirred up the people to get on with the temple. For those that were thinking what they built could never measure up to what had been before, God made a promise.
“The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.” (Haggai 2:9)
We have an opportunity to leave behind what was not so great about how we lived life before the lockdown. We have an opportunity to keep doing some of the good thing we have been doing – looking after one another and celebrating the work of people who used to be taken for granted.
There are songs yet to sing and for songs not to be laments of what we think we have lost.
I’m done with dirges. The songs I intend to sing are going to be songs that pull you to your feet and get you dancing.
And I’m not waiting for the lockdown before I sing my first refrain.