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The Month of May

No one is quite sure today, but it is thought that the Greek goddess Maia was chosen as the patron of the month of May. It certainly makes sense because she was a goddess of spring. By Zeus, she was the mother of Hermes or Mercury, the messenger god. Some confuse her with Persephone, another goddess of spring. Because of Maia's disdain for marriage, it is thought by some to be bad luck to marry during May.

May Calendar

The Roman-Gallic word "May" replaced the Old English name in England after the Norman Conquest. Primilce meant "the month in which cows can be milked three times in a day." May has always had 31 days, unlike other months that have varied over the past three millenia.

May is crowded with holidays and observances. The first day of May is called May Day and has significance in much of the Western World. It is descended from spring festivals that were held in Roman, Teutonic and Celtic regions.1 Celebration is characterized by maidens dancing around a maypole and both sexes engaging in various frolicking pursuits. A rather idealized depiction of the occupation called going a-Maying is depicted in the musical Camelot (1982). May Day became an important socialist/communist holiday as well because it commemorated a resolution to reduce working hours in industry.2

Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) is celebrated in Mexico as well as parts of the United States. It commemorates a battle when the Mexican army defeated the French at the battle of Puebla in 1862. It is celebrated with parades, dancing, mariachi music and other festivities.3

Mother's day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. It was begun by Ana Jarvis who wished to honor her mother. In 1907 she talked her church into observing the day. The next year all of Philadelphia observed it. By 1911 most of the states had declared their own Mother's Day. Woodrow Wilson made it a national observance in 1914.4 It is typically celebrated by giving mother's a day off from daily chores and pampering them for a day.

Memorial Day is held on the last Monday in May. This is to make the National holiday into a three day weekend. Previous to 1971 it had been observed on May 30th.5 The day is set aside to honor members of the military who died in service to their country. It is marked by parades, displays of the flag, visits to cemeteries, and other solemn activities. Typically, it is also thought of as the kickoff to the summer season when school is no longer in session and families take vacations.

This month has also been adopted by many organizations for special observances of Asian Awareness Month, Egg Month, Historic Preservation Month, Older American Month, Teacher Appreciation Month and many more.6

In the northern latitudes, May is a time when Spring is in full swing. The abundance of new life and flowers prompted the old saying attributed to Thomas Tusser (1524?1580), "April showers bring May flowers".7

The birthstone for May is the emerald.

Next Page: Month of June


1. Salmon River
2. Economic Botany at UCLA
3. - UCLA
5. Memorial Day Tribute
6. Butler Web


Sara Teasdale's poem, May

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