How to Celebrate May-Day: 1863, 1912, 1928

The May Queen, W.E. Tucker, 1843

The May Queen, W.E. Tucker, 1843

Mrs Daffodil asserts that the proper English May-Day consists of floral displays, dancing rustics, various contests of strength, agility, and alcohol consumption, a good deal of fumbling about in the shrubbery, and, of course, the crowning of the May Queen. (Mrs Daffodil prefers to ignore the co-opting of the holiday by the International Labour Movement.)

Our American cousins , too, took up the flowery garlands of the celebration, adding little touches of their own to the festival. One fears they did not fully appreciate the pagan undertones of characters like “Jack-in-the-Green” or “Robin Hood.”  However, perhaps subliminally, they acknowledged the propriety of using the imagery of a Spring Fertility Festival for a bridal shower. “Perky” May-Pole, indeed….

The Indians call the month of May the “Time of the Flower-Moon.” Just as April is filled with rain showers, May is the month for bride-showers, following the order of the flower-moon preceding the honeymoon for the June bride.

A luncheon shower is a pleasing way of entertaining the bride-to-be. The table can be decorated effectively with a pink and green May pole for a centerpiece, its flower streamers in corresponding colors draped down to different places on the table. At the end of each, folded in pink paper blossoms, are little notes, preferably in verse, directing the bride-to-be to different part of the house (on the mantel, behind the phonograph, and so on), each a hiding place for a dainty gift for the bride—flowered lingerie, smart china, or any gift that carries out the flower motif.

Miniature May poles made of striped candy sticks and ribbons, with the guest’s name written on a flat card to which the stick is fastened, will serve as place cards, and you may have pretty little “May baskets” filled with candy at each cover.

If you are serving your guests at small tables, there may be different centerpieces for each table. “Jack-in-the-green,” a clown, dressed in pink and green, and hidden in a bouquet of flowers, is charmingly reminiscent of old England. The “Lady of the May,” a child’s doll, decorated with flowers, signifies a popular old custom you might work into your scheme of decorating, or, if you are using a long table, you may have the May pole in the exact center. “Jack-in-the-green” at one end and the “Lady of the May” at the other.

Games apropos to the occasion may feature the Robin Hood idea—Robin Hood, you know, always figured prominently in the celebration of the first of May. Tiny bows and arrows and a flower-decorated target will furnish amusement—with a gay May basket, some tiny present hidden beneath its flowers, for a prize. And nothing would be more fun or more appropriate than to crown the bride-to-be “Queen of the May” during your party.

For your bridge game use score cards decorated with spring blossoms, and go to a little extra trouble with your pencil. Wrap it in pink and green strips of paper, hand colored ribbons from it, and stick it in a paper-covered spool for a base, so that it will stand up straight and perky like a May pole when not in use. Seattle [WA] Daily Times 24 April 1928: p. 19

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It really is rather extraordinary how long even bowdlerised and ill-understood versions of the May-Day Festivities survived. Even in the United States, May-Pole dances and parties were a staple of young ladies’ academies and, as we have seen, bridal showers. Rather earlier, there was advice on May-Day Tableaux for the young. Mrs Daffodil gives a single sample so as to not weary her readers.

TABLEAU  I— MAY

Let the furniture be removed from the stage, and the background draped with white, looped with garlands of flowers and leaves; the floor covered with white, and flowers scattered over it. One single figure represents May. A beautiful blonde should be selected. Let her wear pure white; the dress long, full, and floating; her hair should fall free, either in curls or waving ripples, and a wreath of delicate flowers rest on her head; flowers should appear to fall all about her; in her hair and on her dress (small pins, or a few stitches of thread will fasten them); her hands are raised, her eyes uplifted, as if she were just about to rise and soar away. The writer has seen a lovely child so dressed and standing, and the tableau was as beautiful as can be imagined. Godey’s Lady’s Book May 1863

Crowning the May Queen, c. 1910

Crowning the May Queen, c. 1905

Mrs Daffodil is not quite sure when the escalation of May-Day Pageants began, but in this account from 1912, the May Queen is accompanied, not only by the traditional English Robin-Hood and Hobby Horse, but a parade-of-all-nations including (inexplicably) Roman maidens and Japanese girls. Each of the national groups had its own suggested dance figure, song or May-Pole braiding pattern. If one was ambitious and had a stock of willing young ladies, one could reconstruct the entire tedious pageant by consulting this detailed book.

A SUCCESSFUL MAY-DAY PAGEANT.

At six o’clock in the evening, just about sundown, the processional pageant of all the players, two and two, carrying their ornamental accessories proceed in their march to the May-pole, heralded by the forester’s bugle horn. There are groups of various national dancers in the characteristic costume of their countries including the little milkmaids with cap, apron, and pail; the Scotch Highlanders with plaid cap and feather; the English shepherdesses with their crooks, looking like a band of veritable Bopeeps; the graceful Roman maidens, with their musical pipes and garlands; some Japanese girls with their parasols, waddling and tiptoeing. Rollicking and wild with glee come Robin Hood and his merry men, for the Morris dances, not forgetting the hobbyhorse with spirited “false trots, smooth ambles and Canterbury paces.” The inimitable jester with his pranks, and the little black-faced chimney-sweeps. The pageant procession approaching the May-pole, the centre of the scene, is led by the May Queen and her retinue, half of the attendants on each side of the queen, partners on opposite sides. Each attendant holds a garland of the canopy in her hands. The Festival Book: May-Day Pastime and The May-Pole Dances, Revels and Musical Games for the Playground, School and College, Jennette Emeline Carpenter Lincoln, 1912

Mrs Daffodil wishes her readers the Maddest Merriest Day Of All the Glad New Year.

See last year’s May-Day post about a May-Queen controversy. And this, about the ideal vs. the actual May Day.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in

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