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Unite and Unite: May Day on the Hill

Unite and Unite: May Day on the Hill
Emma Hamlin

Unite and Unite, oh let us all unite,
For summer is a'coming today
And whither we are going we all shall unite
In the merry month of May.
~Padstow Carol

On a walk recently my wee three-year-old (“three-and-a-half, mama!”) gasped, clutched his chest, and pointed. “Look! Signs of Spring!” he cried out with the voice of someone who has spent a lifetime of winter waiting. A tiny patch of daffodil shoots stood before him, and his reverence and awe seemed well beyond his years. But isn't he all of us, hungry for green and new life and warmth and gathering together, especially after the long winter of the pandemic?

May Day has that spirit of sweet astonishment and riotous joy, and while I say this of most festivals, I think it's my favorite. May Day is such a misfit of a festival. Here in New England we sing “for summer is a'coming today” from under umbrellas and wearing wool sweaters and shivering while merry, youthful, optimistic high schoolers dance in bare feet on the newly green grass. What hopefulness and trust in what is to come!

Down at Bluebell Cottage, where the preschoolers spend their days, we gathered to weave May crowns for the tiniest among us. I sat on a stump in the play yard while one after the next pointed to the flowers of their choice, then dictated just where it should be placed on the crown. We talked about the names of the flowers, and just whose little siblings the baby's breath might really smell like. The chance to connect with them and create a crown that they proudly wear (or don't, perhaps) I tuck away to remember when they are the big leaping high schoolers with bells on their ankles. For now, we point out to them the bean planting dance, which is done with short sticks miming digging in the ground to make holes for beans to be planted. The kindergarten teachers smile, knowing they will see this dance throughout the spring as the children find sticks of their own and dig, dig, tap, tap. The same goes for the sword dance, where at the end of the dance the sixth graders holds high the star made of swords, triumphant. What a victory!

Signs of victory permeate the festival — a skit where the King and Queen of Winter are banished by the Queen of May and her entourage, a perfectly braided maypole (and perhaps more impressively, unbraided again!), games of skill, circus performances, fire juggling — all crowned, if you will, by seeing young and old alike adorned with crowns of flowers.

high school students dancing around a maypole

These big community gatherings feel a bit like seeing the first signs of spring, now that we know what it’s like to have missed them. Friends have had babies, babies have grown up, new faces have appeared in the past few years, and friends who have moved away return for the day of celebration. You hear shrieks of joy and calls of names across the campus, just like those of a child who sees those new signs of life in the merry month of May. Unite and unite and reunite, year after year on the Hill.

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