The Lusty Month of May

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Tra la, it’s May, the lusty month of May.

That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray.

When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear.

For me, no other song captures the intoxicating frolic of spring. The song from Camelot, as sung by Julie Andrews, is frisky and gay and oh so naughty, a perfect song to romp around the Maypole. It is also the song whose feverish abandon presages the downfall of Camelot. The battle of good and evil, rebirth and death, frivolity and sobriety is associated with this time of year throughout the centuries.

In Germany, Walpurgis night, April 30, is the most unholy of nights. Bonfires are lit, guns are fired, and whips are cracked to scare off witches and demons flying through the air to meet with Satan. The origin of the festival is pagan, but on the next day, Christians melded the festivities with a feast day for Saint Walpurga who battled against pests, rabies, whooping cough and yes, witches.

The Gaelic version of a spring festival is Beltane. Hearth fires and candles are extinguished before a bonfire is lit on a hill, a symbol of the renewal of life. Torches from the bonfire rekindle the hearth fires. Cattle are driven through the bonfire smoke to protect them from evil. Likewise, people daub themselves with the bonfire ashes to protect against the fairies who like dairy products. To thwart the fairies, coal is placed under butter churns, milk poured on doorways, white and yellow flowers representing fire are gathered and placed on cows.

The Green Man has shoots of vegetation erupting from his green face. His is a popular name for pubs in England, but his face also adorns cathedrals and cemeteries. Besides Europe, where he is represented in literature by Robin Hood and Peter Pan, he appears in many cultures. He is a revered figure in Islam, Ancient Egypt and Sufi theology.

Holi, celebrated by Hindus, occurs in March but consists of the same themes: the triumph of good over evil and the power of love. The night before, the sister of the demon king is killed in a bonfire. The next day is a free-for-all day of color when people run and throw colored powder and water on each other.

So, it’s okay and traditional. Free yourself in lusty May, as Julie Andrews sings:

 It’s May, the lusty month of May.
 That darling month when everyone throws self-control away.
 It’s time to do a wretched thing or two.
 And try to make each precious day, one you’ll always rue.

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