So many versions of May Day world-wide

An ode to spring, a signal of distress, a day for a workers’ parade or political protest, raising and dancing around the Maypole.

An ode to spring, a signal of distress, a day for a workers’ parade or political protest, raising and dancing around the Maypole. May 1 is a day of many faces.

I can vaguely remember a sad little song my Mother often sang to me as a lullaby, wherein a very ill little girl was begging her mother to make sure she was there the next morning for the May Day celebrations, “… for I’m to be Queen of the May, Mother, I’m to be Queen of the May …” Such an unhappy song for a day of usually joyous celebration.

Although not an official holiday in North America, May Day is thought to be celebrated as such in more ways than any other particular day, and in some countries it is a proclaimed holiday. As its position in our calendar assures us, it is the bringing in of Spring. In England’s early days it was a festival in which people “went a-Maying” … off into the woods to collect flowers and greenery and “. . . bringing in the May …”.

Here on our mild coast that activity is certainly a possibility, but news from my part of Ontario this morning informs of snow still deep in the woods and ice still locking the lake. This same week, my daughter writes from Fort Mac that “… it’s still snowing here …”.  Well, maybe the making of May posies needs to be postponed in some locales.

Like many of our holidays and celebrations, May Day may have sprung from pagan holidays, one of them being Beltane – a Celtic festival ushering in the spring. Its rituals were not exactly lighthearted, and included blazing bonfires, the driving of cattle between them, dancing around the fires, and even burning witches in effigy. Today, some neo-pagan groups celebrate Beltane as a festival of spring. More in keeping with the season as we know it, is the fun-filled activity of raising a Maypole and dancing around it, sometimes braiding its ribbons to festoon the pole, and choosing a fair maiden as Queen of the May.

May Day’s other connotation is not one of celebration. It is a signal of distress, used most often by boats or ships and airplanes. The term “mayday” evolved from the French “m’aidez” or ‘venez m’aidez” meaning “come and help me”. To make the command more simple, abrupt, and universal it was shortened to m’aidez or the English term of the same pronunciation, Mayday.

In a genuine distress call, the word is to be repeated three times, along with, if possible, the name or number of the vessel or plane, its location, and nature of the danger. Sometimes when the call cannot be made by the distressed entity, a Mayday relay may be sent by another vessel in sight or sound of the distressed. Like a false fire alarm, a bogus Mayday call is a serious crime to be followed by serious sanctions –imprisonment, fines or restitution to the rescuers.

Nancy Whelan’s column appears every second Thursday. E-mail:

Just Posted

Thirty trees destroyed in Parksville’s Cedar Ridge Estates

Damage estimated at $30K; city says vandals intended to permanently ruin the trees

City of Parksville buys 222 Corfield site, now sole owners

With the purchase, the city will not facilitate cold weather shelter, soup kitchen on property

Canadian Music Hall of Famer Steven Page to play Parksville

Barenaked Ladies co-founder performs at Knox United Church on June 1

Killer of Calgary mother, daughter gets no parole for 50 years

A jury found Edward Downey guilty last year in the deaths of Sara Baillie, 34, and five-year-old Taliyah Marsman

So, do you know ‘Dave from Vancouver Island’?

Ontario man searching for fellow he travelled with in Europe 50 years ago

B.C. firefighters rescue frozen dog from ice

The fire crew found a dog stuck in the at Lake Paul on May 20

Most British Columbians agree the ‘big one’ is coming, but only 50% are prepared

Only 46 per cent of British Columbians have prepared an emergency kit with supplies they might need

B.C. man to pay Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party $20k over lawsuit

Federal judge shut down Satinder Dhillon’s ‘nonsensical’ motion to bar use of PPC name in byelection

RCMP searching for missing Vancouver Island teenager

16-year-old Lasheena Seward was reported missing from a group home in Port Alberni

Sitting and sleeping on downtown sidewalks could net $100 fine in Penticton

The measure, which still requires final approval, would be enforced between May and Sept. 30

Survey finds 15% of Canadian cannabis users with a valid licence drive within two hours of using

Survey also finds middle-aged men are upping their usage following legalization

Most Read