Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day 208: May Day

The first of May marks the beginning of summer and the traditional pagan holiday celebrated by raucous festivities. These festivities included turning society on its head, allowing servants to be masters and vice versa, frolics into the woods, and even sensual deviances. May Day-like celebrations could extend into the summer months, even at the summer solstice, or mid-summer (thus the origins of "A Midsummer's Nights Dream"). When the holiday was Christianized, pagan rites and sexual permissiveness were replaced by celebrations of the Virgin Mary.

In England, May Day is still celebrated by remnants of Pagan and Christian variants. Oxford has its own unique May Day traditions. These include staying up all night (English pubs generally are open all night to allow people appropriate inebriation) and watching the choir boys sing from the top of Magdalen tower at sunrise while people jump in drunken stupor from the nearby Magdalen bridge. Other festivities include people in woodsy/pagan dress singing to the rites of Spring and Summer. They mostly were painted green.

I celebrated May Day this year by enjoying my college's once-in-three-years ball the night before. I pushed through till the morning, thanks to a couple of naps and *no* inebriation, and a groggy husband who joined me at 2:00 a.m. Then I enjoyed the choir boys atop the Magdalen tower at 6:00 a.m., heard a few recreants jump into the murky river and wended my way back through the crowds to the Student Union for a 7:00 a.m. breakfast before happening upon another choir atop St. John's tower (much more intimate and lovely - no speakers or mass marketing here).

After a third nap, I enjoyed a walk along the river with my husband, some ineffective studying at the law library, and then traveled 1/2 hour via bus to nearby Blenheim Palace, where Lord Marlborough (Churchill's family) still lives on their 2,000 acres of Parliament-granted land after Lord Marlborough distinctively ended the war of Spanish succession through a stunning victory at Blenheim (thus the name of the palace) on the Continent. They had a jousting tournament there to celebrate May Day (don't ask me the connection), but I enjoyed the house and grounds much more, thanks in large part to the chance meeting with old family friends, the father of which is a BYU professor. The combined knowledge of him and his children and in-laws made the perfect ending to my very tired but fun May Day.

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