Calendar Notes: May - Part 1
by G.R. Balleine
A strange tradition of ill-luck hangs around May.
One foolish proverb says: “Marry in May and you’ll rue the day”. But this dates hack to pagan beliefs from which we have long been liberated. , May is the month of marvels, for '' Lo, winter is past; flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come." It speaks of garlands, hawthorn, and may-poles, of laughter, love, and life. All Nature shouts aloud that better days are coming.
That is why Labour chose May Day as its Festival. It seems the symbol of all our aspirations for a jollier world, sunnier days, and a merrier life for all. May gets its name from Maia, the Roman goddess of growth.
What is more wonderful than growth"? Our prayer book bids us: '' Grow in grace and in the knowledge of Our Lord." That is the kind of growth that drives dull care away. True Christians must be growing Christians.
Our weather lore gives one warning about this month:-'` Cast not a clout, till May be out." 'The question has been raised whether this means the month or the may blossom, undoubtedly the month meant. In the North they say
Wind at North and wind at East
Is neither good for man nor beast
So never think to cast- it clout
Until the month of May be out.
The Somerset proverb runs: “If you would the doctor pay, leave your flannels off in May.
And one pessimist wrote :-
A wise than to his son did state,
` Keep on your winter things till May.'
A wiser man said to his son.
Keep on your winter things till .June,'
Then said the wisest man of all
` Best never leave them off' at all.'
The May warning has experience behind it, for a cold snap often comes this month. One proverb says:
Come it early, come it late
In May comes always the cow-quake (i.e. a cold drizzle)
And in Jersey we say “A la mie Mai queue d’hive” – at mid-May comes winter’s tail!
On May Day the month was welcomed in with rejoicings that were often indecorous; so the Puritans, when they came into power sternly repressed them.
One writer of the period said : " Every parish assembles, both men and women, and, dividing into companies, they get to the woods, where they spend the night. In the morning they return with branches to deck their assemblies. A great lord presides over their Sport, even Satan, Prince of Hell. The chiefest Jewel they bring is their May-pole. Twenty yoke of oxen, every ox having a nosegay tied on his horns, draw home this stinking idol, with two or three hundred men, women, and children following ; and being reared up, they banquet and feast, and leap and dance about it, as the heathen do at the dedication of their idols."
There was evidently a tussle on this point in Jersey, for in 1603 the Ministers appealed to the Royal Court " to find some way to abolish the superstitious ns ceremony which the people observe oh the first of' May to the great scandal of our Christian profession."
In the Church Calendar the 1st. May is the Feast of St Philip and St James ; but these two rather obscure Apostles, of whom little is recorded, failed to win enough devotion from the people to wean them from this roistering survival of pagan Nature Worship.
Two great Festivals come this month, Ascension Day and Whitsunday. Ascension Day is the Festival of Christ upon the Throne. "He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the Right Hand of God”
For forty days after Easter He appeared to His apostles. “speaking things concerning the Kingdom." 'Then on the fortieth He bade them farewell, and ' a cloud received him out of their sight."
They realized that He had passed to a wider life. The most impressive evidence for the Ascension is not its brief mention in Acts, but the quiet may it is taken for granted throughout the New Testament, e.g.. "A great High Priest who hath passed through the heavens” Christ is gone into heaven and is with the Right Hand of God.
This is the very core of Christianity, the belief that changed the face of Europe, the conviction that the Carpenter of Nazareth, who had been despised and rejected of men, holds today the highest place in the Universe: “All things are subject unto Him”