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Living in Season Newsletter

Living in Season
The official newsletter of the School of the Seasons
Volume 3, Number 7
April 30, 2005
Walpurgisnacht, May Eve


  • Welcome
  • My Season: Not Smelling May Flowers
  • May Calendar: Scrambled
  • Living in Season: Lost Ceremonies of May
  • Links for Mayday: Maypole Dances
  • Slow Time Class Starting May 1
  • What I’ve Been Reading: Novels for the Invalid
  • Calendar Companion: Leaves from the Tree of Time
  • Holiday Packet: May Day
  • Signs of Summer
  • Copyright
  • Subscribe - Unsubscribe

Welcome to my periodical newsletter featuring ideas for bringing the beauty of the current season into your life. If you enjoy this newsletter, please forward it.

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My Season: Not Smelling May Flowers
Despite the early arrival of summer in Seattle, as made manifest by the blooming of hawthorns, lilacs and chestnuts trees, along with my favorite of all scented flowers: the fragrant iris, I’ve been fogged in with a cold for the past two weeks and haven’t been able to smell a thing.

It’s been hard to enjoy all the pleasures of the season with my senses impaired, my energy sapped and my brain dulled. It’s even more painful because the weather has been glorious to match the explosion of blossom.

Meanwhile I’ve been lying in bed with all the windows shut (for a while I thought I was becoming allergic to tree pollen), blowing my nose, coughing and drinking endless cups of tea. The only good thing about this is that I’m reading about a book a day.

Blessings of the pleasures of May,
Waverly Fitzgerald

In good time,

Living in Season: Almost Lost Ceremonies of May
When I first began creating the holiday packets two years ago I began with May Day, perhaps because it’s one of the holidays I’ve been celebrating the longest.

I remember with fondness the ceremonies at the start of May celebrated at my grade school, St. Bridget of Sweden in Van Nuys, California. The little girls wore their communion dresses and the boys looked splendid in their starched white shirts. We paraded out of the church, bringing the statue of Mary with us to be placed in a special outside grotto for the month of May. As we walked we sang: “O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.”

The whole scene was full of unusual and sensual delights: the smell and color of flower petals scattered from little baskets and the outdoor procession through the sunshine. Even better, (I’m sure we recognized although we could not have articulated this), it was all in honor of the Feminine. One of the girls was always chosen to be the Queen of May, and led the parade crowned with a garland of flowers. And, of course, this was all in honor of Mary, who seemed so much closer to us than God the judgmental Father or Jesus, the martyred hero. Mary was the Divine Mother, and we knew that we could count on her intercession, her compassion and her love.

With our white clothes, processions and songs, we were enacting a particularly 1950’s Catholic version of rituals celebrated in Europe during the season of flowers and mating. Thanks to the association with Mary, we were preserving traditions that had almost vanished from the culture.

At one time, May Day ceremonies flourished across America, in schools and town exhibitions. A friend gave me a precious pamphlet written by Eleanor Lane Peabody called “The Evolution of the English May Day” which was presented before Her Majesty the Queene of the May at Wheaton College on May 17, 1924. It involved an all-women cast (Wheaton was a women’s college from 1834 to 1988) performing a series of five episodes, songs, processions, spoken pieces and dances, including a May Pole dance.

You can see visual remnants of these ceremonies in the collection of postcards which Barbara Marlow Irwin began collecting since her birthday is May 1st:

And I loved reading an oral history account of a high school May Day ceremony as told by Kathy Reynolds to Eloise Herr (unfortunately she doesn’t mention the year):

Although people always danced on May Day, what we now think of as a Maypole dance (the plaiting of ribbons around a pole) is fairly recent. It probably developed in the 18th or 19th century in the pleasure gardens of London, and was then adopted by country folk dancing around the Maypoles on village greens. The Victorian art critic William Ruskin popularized this custom in the 1890's when he was teaching at Whitelands Teachers Training College for Women.

Another May Day tradition that I remember vividly from my childhood was the custom of hanging a basket of flowers on the front door knob of a friend’s home, ringing the bell and running away to let them find and take in the fragrant gift. We made them out of construction paper circles, twirled into a cone, then stapled or glued, with a handle made of ribbon across the top.

This is another centuries old custom with many elaborations, for instance, giving flowers with significance—plum for the glum, thorns for the prickly and pear for the popular. When I began reviving May Day customs in my life, one of my first inspirations was to buy seed packets. I chose plants that symbolized qualities I hoped would enhance the lives of the recipients and left them on doorsteps with an attached label wishing them “Happy May Day.” I also sent homemade May Day cards—usually collages of pictures from flower catalogs and gardening magazines. Floral scented soaps and bubble bath would also be an appropriate modern May Day gift.

In the past few years, the gathering of flowers that are blooming on May Eve has become an important part of my ritual. I always make a tour of my neighborhood around midnight, skulking through the alleys with my shears in hand, snipping any stray lilacs or other fragrant blossoms I can find. I used to bring them home and fill my daughter's room with them so that when she woke up she was in a bower of flowers. Now we go together and then put the flowers into baskets to leave at the doors of friends and neighbors.

One year my daughter (inspired by a Martha Stewart suggestion) made beautiful little vases by twining heavy-duty floral wire around the rims of small glass jars to form handles. We filled the jars with water, then tucked in sprigs of a few small flowers (lily of the valley is the May Day flower in France) and hung them on the doorknobs of each unit in our apartment building. Here’s a link to the article at Martha Stewart’s website which shows how to make these.

What May Day customs do you remember from your childhood? And what customs have you developed to celebrate it today?

Links for May Day: Maypole Dances
A few years ago when I went looking online for information on Maypole dances, I found nothing. I had to go get a book from the public library (Baines, William, Around the Maypole: A May Day Festival with Maypole Dance Tune for Piano and Complete Instructions for Dancing, Bryn Mawr, PA: Theodore Presser Co) to get diagrams and instructions. Now there is a lot of information online, most of it vague, some of it wrong, but quite a few special sites (like the ones mentioned above) that offer unique information. I also liked these.

A nice website compiled by Eliza Yetter. I’ve highlighted her copy of instructions on Maypole dancing from a book published in 1907 and entitled How to Dance the Revived Ancient Dances by Ardern Holt.  Eliza is creating a database of holiday information, including selections from old almanacs and songs from an 1888 compilation of songs about ale. I loved her idea for a modern May Day ritual, inspired by an Albanian spring custom, of bathing her kids in water suffused with violets and rubbing their skin with raw eggs for fertility/creativity.

This was the most specific information I found about special Maypole dances with names like Jacob’s Ladder, Spider’s Web, Barberpole. I publish directions for several of these in my May Day packet. Mine came from Baines; these are not attributed.

Another attempt to create a database but this one specifically for folk dances. I found this website through a link from wikipedia. It contains some interesting historical information (though none of it is credited to a source) and quite a bit of misinformation (the Maypole dance did not originate in Rome!) but I appreciate the impulse to create a comprehensive database.

Haikus are usually about a moment observed in nature, although nature can be extended to include the human environment. The Austrailian haijiki compiled by John Bird mentions a famous blues festival and surfers. The Alaskan haijiki compiled by Scott Perkins and Cindy Zacko refers to humpback whales returning and the first mosquitoes as well as the first Winnebago and the first cruise ship.

What I’ve Been Reading: Novels for the Invalid
RHave to admit that when I’m sick, I love novels that sweep me away into another place and time. With that in mind, here are my most recent favorites:

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke
A totally brilliant novel which seamlessly integrates the rather dry political world of Regency England (during the time of the Napoleonic Wars) and a magical realm of hidden roadways into Faery where the Raven King rules over the forgotten world of magic. It’s a bit slow to start (with a group of Yorkshire magicians who know magic only from reading dry scholarly tomes) but irresistible once you get into it. The two titular characters are rival magicians who have their own takes on the proper use and application of magic.

A Trust Betrayed by Candace Robb
I’m incredibly fussy about my historical novels since the slightest historical anachronism drives me crazy. This one was a joy to read—not only were the historical details accurate but the heroine was presented as an authentic woman of her time: Margaret of Perth, left behind by an older husband who married her but didn’t trust her to know his political secrets (he’s involved in the intrigue surrounding the English attempt to subjugate Scotland in the 1290s). When Margaret sets out to find him, she stirs up trouble, and, in fact, this is the beginning of a series--she doesn’t even find her husband by the end of the first volume. It was totally entertaining but made me yearn for a good Dorothy Dunnett novel. If you don’t know her, she’s the most brilliant historical novelist in the world (maybe not the easiest to read but the most brilliant); I recommend The Game of Kings, the first volume of the Lymond Chronicles.

A Good Year by Peter Mayle
This was fluff and not very well written, considering the author’s reputation. But I thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy: of inheriting a villa in Provence complete with a vineyard, and going to live there, enjoying sumptuous local meals, fine wines and romance.

Sideways by Rex Pickett; Sideways, the movie directed by Alexander Payne
Speaking of wine, this is the delightful novel that gave birth to the wonderful movie, Sideways, which has joined my list of top five favorite movies, thanks to the great acting, lively dialogue, witty puncturing of wine pretentiousness and a perfectly balanced plot. (The last movie to get on my list was Lone Star—admittedly I don’t see a lot of movies.) You will probably appreciate both the book and the movie more if you’ve ever spent any time around wine geeks or wine snobs. There are also lots of painful and accurate frustrated writer jokes. It tells the tale of two guys spending a week in California wine country prior to the marriage of one. Each has his own way (wine for the writer, sex for the actor) of dealing with the anxiety created by intimacy and fears about competence.

New Slow Time Class Beginning May 1
There are still a few spaces left in the next Slow Time class which is beginning this week. This twelve week course is designed to transform your experience with time,through a series of exercises and steps, which move you from seconds, through hours, days, weeks, moons, months, seasons, years and finally to the spacious arena of the night skies. You will learn:

  • How to find the tempo that is natural for you
  • The difference between artificial time and natural time
  • The way your past affects the present
  • Simple ways to attune with the natural rhythms of the seasons
  • Ways to slow down and savor your life
  • How to create a sacred relationship with time

You can register now in our Store.

Calendar Companion: Leaves from the Tree of Time
It’s not too late to order the Calendar Companion, the latest offering from School of the Seasons. This is a graceful way to incorporate spirit and seasons into your life. Use it along with your usual planning tools and calendar to help you:

  • Slow time down
  • Consult your soul while creating your schedule
  • Make time for what's truly important in your life
  • Move in rhythm with the seasons and the moon

Every week for 52 weeks you will receive a brief email with a reflection on the qualities of the present time period and one suggestion, task or question that you can savor throughout the week.

Start whenever you like. When you order the Calendar Companion, you will receive the next week's calendar companion, along with an introductory email.

$20 for a year's worth of gentle reminders to help you stay aligned with natural rhythms. Click here to order, or to see a sample reflection.

Holiday Packet: May Day
Last chance to get your May Day packet before the holiday. “May Day is rich in customs, perhaps more so than any other day of the year.” So says theOxford Companion to the Year. If you are interested in learning about some of these customs, order my May Day packet, an illustrated portfolio of over 30 pages which includes:

  • Ancient traditions of Floralia, Beltane & May Day
  • Instructions for creating a Maypole and dancing around it
  • Recipes for May wine and other traditional May Day foods
  • Special May Day divinations and songs
  • The language of the flowers
  • Ideas for May Day gifts
  • And much more.

The print version is $14; please allow 10 days for delivery. An email version is also available for $9. It will be sent to you as an attached Word file within 24 hours. Order at: Order here.

Signs of Summer
May Day marks the beginning of summer in the old British Isles system of reckoning the season. It's a bit strange to think of summer starting so soon, but I've come to recognize it by the particular flowers it brings. What's blooming where you live?

Send me your signs of the season and I’ll post them on my website.

Copyright ©Waverly Fitzgerald 2005
All rights reserved. You may reprint material from Living in Season in other electronic or print publications as long as you credit me and provide a link to: http://www.schooloftheseasons.com. Please send me a copy of the publication.

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