This week I have been maypole dancing – for the first time in 30 years! Mayday, or Beltane as some prefer, was always my favourite festival of the year ever since I was a small child. It celebrates what is good right now, as opposed to the promise of things to come, or things past.
I was lucky enough to be brought up in a village that still had regular community events throughout the year, Mayday being the first followed by Whitsun and Harvest, a summer fete, and some years a play or a pantomime, written and performed by people who lived in the village. Even before Mayday the ritual started with us each being given a poster to colour in at school, always the same picture of a garland of flowers but sufficiently interesting that it didn’t seem to matter, and then we would each find somewhere to display our poster to advertise the event. There would also be several practises for the dancing in school lunchbreaks, with a small pole which we tried not to pull over or tangle up, and tape recorded music.
Finally the day dawned. It started with making a flower garland – which in my case was usually made of freshly cut forsythia branches with a garden cane across the middle, since we never possessed any plastic hoops. We then added to the acid yellow flowers with whatever else we could find in the garden: daffodils, forget me nots, ivy and aubretia. Judging by old photos, Spring must have come later then! Dressed up in our finery (and usually raincoats!) we carried the garland to the far end of the village for the start of the procession. Around a hundred children plus parents would walk through the village to the recreation ground, before abandoning the garlands for the maypole dancing.
On the day there was always a huge white painted pole erected in the rec, which always took me by surprise just how big it was. Somehow with the live music playing (thanks to the Morris dancers who followed us) and the extra space, we always managed to get it right when it mattered.
While I have made flower garlands of varying sizes over the years, and danced to many Morris or ceilidh bands, I had never had a chance to dance around that wonderful phallic symbol that is the maypole, until this year. We were dancing with a five foot pole specially made for us by one of the mothers at the Steiner Waldorf toddler group M and I go to. She did a beautiful job, carving flower patterns into the bark and attaching long, brightly-coloured satin ribbons to the top of the pole. There were exactly the right number of ribbons for the dancers present, never a very predictable number, so that felt good too. The lovely woman who runs the group held the pole upright with one hand as we danced, and we sang to provide our own music, going first one direction around and then the other just as we always had.
So different, and yet exactly the same; spiralling patterns encouraging and celebrating Spring in its full glory.