Mayday! It’s May Day!

by Rev. Aaron Payson

Sunday is May 1, which has for centuries marked the turning of the seasons.  The ancient Celtic celebration of Beltane honored the return of the season of light from the season of darkness. The Celts light sacred fires to honor the return of life and fertility to the world. The Romans honored the season with the five-day festival of Floralia, which honored the Roman goddess of flowers, Flora.  In the United States May Day took on other means as the Labor movements in the country turned to this day as a celebration of workers rights as they advocated for an eight-hour workday.

For us, this moment, falling as it does every few years on Sunday, is an opportunity to reflect the confluence of all these orientations toward change, growth, and the flourishing of humankind and all life itself. 

Interestingly enough, the cry “Mayday”, though sounding similar to the holiday, has little to do with the history of the day itself.  The origin of the cry dates to 1923 and an airport officer in London, Frederick Mockford, who coined the word “mayday” as something easily understood by pilots and grounds crews during an emergency because the word sounded like the French word “m’aider,” which is a shortened term for the phrase “come and help me.”

And yet, we understand that the celebration of the season, which could be accomplished through solitary rituals, is more often a clarion call to gather in community.  So perhaps the best expression for us is to return to the origin of the cry and the celebration “Mayday! Its May Day!” not as a call for emergency help, but as a cry to gather and help each other remember the reason for the season!

To do this, I want to invite you all to bring a flower, or flowers with you on Sunday for a flower communion which is part of the legacy we inherit from our Hungarian Unitarian ancestors.  We’ll explore the history of this tradition as it marks not only the season but also the ultimate commitment to reflect a different ethic in the midst of a world that seems to be bent on destruction in many ways.   

Let’s make this Sunday, a colorful, joyous celebration of the season.  Let us be reminded of life’s propensity toward renewal and rebirth.  Let us all heed the call “Mayday! Its May Day!”