Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Maypole and May Day - Part 2

"May Day" has been celebrated in the Italian peninsula--largely in the north--since Roman times. Along with singing, dancing, and feasting, the holiday was also marked by the giving of "May baskets," small baskets of sweets or flowers, usually left anonymously on neighbors' doorsteps. Whose to say that we couldn't bring some of those traditions back? A May basket would be a nice gesture to give to family members, friends, or neighbors... depending on your relationship with your neighbors. You could follow it up with a short explanation of the tradition.

In Italy it is called Calendimaggio or cantar maggio a seasonal feast held to celebrate the arrival of spring. The event takes its name from the period in which it takes place, that is, the beginning of May, from the latin calenda maia. The Calendimaggio is a tradition still alive today in many regions of Italy as an allegory of the return to life and rebirth: among these Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna (for example, is celebrated in the area of the Quattro Province or (Piacenza, Pavia, Alessandria and Genoa), Tuscany and Umbria. 

The function of this magical-propitiatory ritual is often performed during an alms during which, in exchange for gifts (traditionally eggs, wine, food or sweets), the Maggi (or maggerini) sing auspicious verses to the inhabitants of the houses they visit and throughout the Italian peninsula this Il Maggio couplets are very diverse, most are loving occasions with an important sexual load, that young people sang to celebrate the arrival of spring. Symbol of spring revival are the trees (alder, golden rain) accompanying maggerini and flowers (violets, roses), mentioned in the verses of the songs, and with which the participants adorn. In particular the plant alder, which grows along the rivers, is considered the symbol of life and that's why it is often present in the ritual.

Calendimaggio can be historically noted in Tuscany as a mythical character who had a predominant role and met many of the attributes of the god Belenus. In Lucania, the Maggi have a clear auspicious character of pagan origin. In Syracuse, Sicily is held during the month of May, the Albero della Cuccagna (cf. "Greasy pole"), a feast celebrated to commemorate the victory over the Athenians led by Nicias. However, Angelo de Gubernatis in his work Mythology of Plants, believes that without doubt the festival was previous to that of said victory. It is a celebration that dates back to ancient peoples very integrated with the rhythms of nature, such as the Celts (celebrating Beltane), Etruscans and Ligures, in which the arrival of summer clothed great importance.


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