May Festival is held to honor the season and the sense of renewal that accompanies Spring. Children prepare for the day by learning May Day songs and other folk songs as well as a class dance around the May Pole. The parents bring a dish for the pot-luck, the children play games, including the ever popular Cake Walk. This event is filled with copious amounts of food, friends, and fun.
May Day customs can be traced back to Roman times, when a festival honoring Flora, the Goddess of Flowers and Bride of the West Wind, was held at the end of April. Familiar European folk traditions abound and include the weaving of flower garlands and dances around the Maypole. The original maypole was likely a tall tree (up to 60 feet high!), cut and stripped of all its branches, except for a few sprouting at the top to symbolize new life. The tree was decorated and set up in an open space, often next to the village church. From the south of Europe came the tradition of attaching colorful ribbons to the pole, which the dancers carried and plaited into a variety of patterns, eventually unwinding when the dance was reversed. Hence, the pattern is revealed, briefly, in the creative intention of the dance before dissolving again into the flowing energy of life. Ah, Springtime! With the farmer’s hope for kind weather and the promise of Summer just around the corner, the longed for cycle of renewal unfolds.
Our own May Festival traditions at Madison Waldorf School have developed over several decades, long before our current school was founded, held sometime between the first of May and mid-month after too many cold, gusty and occasionally snowy celebrations!