Celebrate with Discernment

Today’s blog was published over at The Glorious Table! See below for a preview or link to the full post here.

In my mind’s eye, there exists a vague memory of being in elementary school, holding a long ribbon, and dancing back and forth among my classmates. The various colored ribbons overlap one another, weaving a pattern around what I’m guessing was a tetherball pole. I realize now that it must have been a May Day celebration. I have no idea what was taught that day, but I remember it was fun. When this memory came to mind, I thought, “Maybe we’ll celebrate May Day this year. That might be great.” Since I didn’t know anything about May Day, I decided to look it up.

Whoa, nelly. I had no idea about the history of this holiday! What I learned was interesting, and I’m going to share some of it with you. I’m also going to share the interesting way Jesus showed up in the middle of my research. I love how he can be a part of anything we learn, and—more importantly—that he should be part of anything we learn. Let’s dive in.

May Day celebrations go back a long way, with their origins in ancient agricultural rituals practiced by the Greeks, Romans, and Celts. As with many other celebrations, the specific practice has varied quite a bit over culture and time. Originally, May Day was used as a time to celebrate the shift to spring by doing things like putting cattle out to pasture and doing extra milking. The celebrations also often included bringing in a tree from the forest, setting it upright to decorate, and gathering flowers and branches to decorate one’s home. Music and dancing were common, and even crowning a May Day king and queen were part of the fun. In short, it was the yearly chance to get together with the rest of the village and celebrate the new life that comes with spring. Sounds fun, right?

Celebrate With Discernment

So where did Jesus show up in all this? It was when I read that the relationship between the church and the holiday has been contentious at times. May Day was strongly opposed as a pagan holiday several times throughout the history of the church. Both in the United Kingdom and the United States, May Day celebrations have been banned at one time or another for being blasphemous and involving the worship of false gods, or for being overly sexual because of May Day’s association with fertility. The celebration of May Day never really caught on in the US like it did in other countries, probably because it was so strongly opposed by the Puritans at the beginning of our country’s development. At one point, when May Day celebrations were banned in 16th-century England, some folks were executed for rioting. Yikes!

Ironically, at other times, May Day celebrations have also been adopted as part of worship, human rights efforts, or simple childhood fun. In the 18th century, Catholics used May Day for devotions, and 19th century labor efforts used it as a way to secure worker’s rights and an eight-hour workday. May Day has also been a time for children to gather flowers into bouquets or baskets and leave them on people’s doorsteps as a gift (see here for a super cute picture of former first lady Grace Coolidge receiving a May basket from some children in the 1920s.)

So, what do we do with something that has been both accepted and villainized by the church over time? We ask for discernment, just as we do with so many other things in life:

To read the full post link to The Glorious Table here.

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