"When I was quite a child, I went with my mother to visit her relatives at a small town in the South of France. We arrived about the end of April, when the spring had fully burst forth, with its deep blue sky, its balmy air, its grassy meadows, its flowering hedges and trees already green. One morning I went out with my mother to call upon a friend: when we had taken a few steps, she said: 'To-day is the first of May; if the customs of my childhood are still preserved here, we shall see some "Mays" on our road.''Mays,' I said, repeating a word I heard for the first time, ' what are they?' My mother replied by pointing to the opposite side of the place we were crossing: ' top, look there,' she said; 'that is a May.'
Under the gothic arch of an old church porch a narrow step was raised covered with palms. A living being, or a statue—I could not discern at the distance—dressed in a white robe, crowned with flowers, was seated upon it; in her right hand she held a leafy branch; a canopy above her head was formed of garlands of box, and ample draperies which fell on each side encircled her in their snowy folds. No doubt the novelty of the sight caused my childish imagination much surprise, my eyes were captivated, and I scarcely listened to my mother, who gave me her ideas on this local custom; ideas, the simple and sweet poetry of which I prefer to accept instead of discussing their original value.
'Because the month of May is the month of spring,' said she, 'the month of flowers, the month consecrated to the Virgin, the young girls of each quartier unite to celebrate its return. They choose a pretty child, and dress her as you see; they seat her on a throne of foliage, they crown her and make her a sort of goddess; she is May, the Virgin of May, the Virgin of lovely days, flowers, and green branches. See, they beg of the passers-by, saying, " For the May." People give, and their offerings will be used some of these days for a joyous festival.'
When we came near, I recognised in the May a lovely little girl I had played with the previous day. At a distance I thought she was a statue. Even close at hand the illusion was still possible; she seemed to me like a goddess on her pedestal, who neither distinguished nor recognised the profane crowd passing beneath her feet. Her only care was to wear a serene aspect under her crown of periwinkle and narcissus, laying her hand on her olive sceptre. She had, it is true, a gracious smile on her lips, a sweet expression in her eyes; but these, though charming all, did not seem to seek or speak to any in particular; they served as an adornment to her motionless physiognomy, lending life to the statue, but neither voice nor affections. Was it coquetry in so young a child thus studying to gain admiration? I know not, but to this day I can only think of the enchantment I felt in contemplating her. An older sister of hers came forward as a collector, saying, 'For the May.' My mother stopped, and drawing some money from her purse, laid it on the china saucer that was presented; as for myself, I took a handful of sous, all that I could find in my pocket, and gave them with transport; I was too young to appreciate the value of my gift, but I felt the exquisite pleasure of giving.
In passing through the town we met with several other 'Mays,' pretty little girls, perhaps, but not understanding their part; always rest-less, arranging their veils, touching their crowns, talking, eating sweetmeats, or weary, stiff, half asleep, with an awkward, unpleasing attitude. None was the May, the representative of the joyous season of sweet and lovely flowers, but my first little friend."
Happy May Day xoxoxoxo