May Day Celebrations in Florida During the 1950s
It’s May Day. No one really celebrates it anymore. When I was in the 1st grade and again in the 3rd grade, I attended a little country school in Florida. There were two grades to a room and after 8th grade you had to take the bus into the city to go to school. Our bus picked us up at the front gate, engulfed in a dust cloud kicked up off the dirt road by the big tires. After a hard rain, the road would have ridges like a washboard until the county came through to grade again, making bus rides during those times particularly jarring.
By the time we arrived at the wood schoolhouse, we were packed in, 3 to a school bus seat large enough for two adults. We wore shorts and were allowed to attend school barefoot, which I found gloriously liberating in comparison to schooling in the Boston area.
My third grade teacher stuck up for me when the kids laughed because I didn’t know what a gopher was, saying we were both right…it WAS a brown, furry rodent like I said and it WAS a land turtle like the Betts boy said. That’s when my cousin Shelly and I did our best head toss and walked off, refusing to give any more time to such a dumb boy. All he was good for was playing a guitar.
In April, our teacher announced that we would be having a May Day celebration and she would teach us to dance around a May Pole.
We walked out to the schoolyard and a pole with many beautiful colored ribbons attached to it. In a few minutes, we would take a ribbon that was attached to the pole. For now, they were secured at the bottom to keep them from tangling but the breeze made them flutter in the middle. We were told to stand in a circle around the pole, boy/girl/boy/girl. When the music started, we joined hands and stepped to the center, then took our assigned streamer in our right hand and returned to the outside of the circle. We were then told to turn and face our neighbor to the right.
The boys took one step to the outside, the girls, a step to the inside. The teachers explained that we would weave the ribbons by walking, girls clockwise, boys, counterclockwise, lifting and lowering our ribbons so that they would weave over and under. I would hold my ribbon up so I could go over the streamer of the first boy, then duck down and walk under the ribbon of the next boy. The boys reversed the routine. As we circled the pole, our ribbons would wind around, covering more and more of the pole as our ribbons grew shorter. It took many practices to get it right, but on the big day, when the music started and we danced the Maypole Dance, those ribbons wound around perfectly and in the end, we had a very colorful pole.
Years later, I would learn of the pagan origins of the Maypole celebration and had a good laugh. I take the same stand on Maypole dancing as I do on trick or treating or hanging Christmas decorations: it’s all in the intention.