The maypole:
Many of my wonderful childhood memories concern Mayday.  I have not heard about it being celebrated here for many years, and it may have fallen from our customs.  The Russians still celebrate, but all we get for images is huge missiles on transporters.  That choice of image is probably not a chance thing.

The Mayday celebration centers around something called a maypole.  We used to dance the maypole in the third grade.  A pole would be set up for each class with a wheel at the top with long colored silk ribbons hanging from the wheel.  The children would gather in a ring around the pole, alternating boys and girls.  When the music started, each child would pick up a ribbon, and we would dance around the pole, first in one direction and then in the other.  Then we would turn, girls clockwise and boys counter clockwise, and we would weave in opposite directions, in and out, until the pole was covered with a pretty silk diamond pattern. 

It was innocent fun, but alas a man in Vienna around the turn of the previous century decided that he wanted to spend his time putting bored women on a couch and getting them to talk about sex.  There was never any objective proof that he did anybody any good, but the idea became very popular.  A lot of people were brain damaged by the Spanish flu in 1918, and Freudian psychoanalysis was not the worst bad idea of that century, but it probably caused problems for the dancing of the maypole.  The maypole was thought by some to be a phallic symbol, and that probably accounts for the photographic icon of large phallic rockets being used to illustrate the Russian celebration.

It is absurd, of course.  The pole is just something to fasten the ribbons to.  It is the ribbons that matter.  A tree limb or a wooden frame would have worked about as well, but would not have produced as nice a weave and at the time would have brought to mind hangings, not appropriate for a happy occasion. 

The tradition came down that anyone could have sex with anyone they had danced the maypole with, so it was assumed to be a symbol for fornication.  I think that is a misunderstanding.  The true meaning probably was you have sex with any of those, of the opposite sex of course, you had danced with and nobody else.  Nobody.  Ever.  Not once.  No matter what. 

It was not a tradition of unbridled sex.  It was a celebration of celibacy, of integrity, of the unthinkably ancient unwritten history of the village.  As the child danced, he or she would encounter everyone and smiled at everyone he or she would ever love.  Like the life of the village, first one family would be outstanding and then another.  But nobody came and nobody left.  A single life time was but a nod, a bow, a sweep to the side and over soon.  It was the community that lived on. 

Marital fidelity was expected.  It was vigorously guarded.  But that is not to say everybody was perfect.  Sure there may have been dalliance, particularly before marriage; human imperfection will always exist.  But if the maypole is honored properly, then it still works.  The community will survive.  The future will stretch out as an endless dance of joy, good times, bad times, changes, reverses, but always a positive thing.  Human life is the one irreplaceable treasure.  The maypole symbolizes that.  At the end of the dance, each child holds a ribbon that is woven all the way back up to the very beginning. 

Break it up, scatter the village, marry strangers, carry on exactly the way everybody who can afford it seems to be carrying on now, and there will be a long painful decline.  Lonely old men drinking themselves to death.  Soft lipped young women crying themselves to sleep every night barren.  No babies.  No joy.  No play.  The light of human kind going grey and gloaming into eternal blackness. 

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