The first of May

When I was a little girl in school I didn’t know much about May Day. For us, this meant that this large pole with ribbons attached to the top would come out and we had an assembly to watch kids dance around wrapping the ribbons. It happened every year. There may be some skits and fun around around it but the main event was the May pole. I didn’t know where it came from or why but this and leaving flowers on our neighbors doorsteps were part of May Day.

We made these pockets, I remember most clearly out of old wallpaper samples, to hold flowers. They would have a handle on the end and we would sneakily hang the flowers on the neighbor’s door handle, ring the door bell and run. My brothers and I always chose our neighbor Mrs. Kirklie to ring and run after leaving flowers. We thought she never knew it was us but she probably always knew it was us. She was so lovely to us that we just knew we had to leave her our May Day flowers. We would fill our pouches with whatever flowers were around our yard…daffodils, dandelions, etc.

These are the associations that I make with the first of May. That, and it is two weeks from my birthday exactly, the beginning of the month and generally feels like spring. I didn’t realize the many other implications of May Day, not really until I moved to Europe. I knew that probably these traditions might have stemmed from European and pagan holidays but also didn’t realize the impact of May Day, or Labor Day around here.

Berlin has infamous May Days. The first of May signifies a time of revolution and protest for better working conditions, better pay, better ways of life, better ways to treat humans. In some circles, like everything in Berlin, it has become a reason to not only riot but also to rave and party. Things have definitely changed since Corona times and last year’s May Day was pretty darn quiet. We were coming just off of the first real lockdown and people were pretty cautious.

This year news reports have been talking about a resurgence of May Day protests and rallies. Some have even noted that there may be more than usual now with curfews in place and restrictions that have groups more ready to protest in addition the labor shouts. Last night a Take Back the Night march happened with close to 4,000 women taking to the streets, masked and ready to chant. Ana and I chose to stay in because while we saw the masks, we knew distance would still be difficult and we didn’t feel safe to gather, with only 20 percent of the population with one dose of vaccine.

May Day also supposedly kicks off a summer vibe in this city but with the grey cold of this Spring perhaps we aren’t ready to be in summer yet. Until just a few days ago, it was below freezing at night. I am hopeful I get to plant things soon but it is still chilly with small moments of sun which keeps us just at the line of hope.

There are other reasons that I carry hope into May. In May, my partner will get her second dose of vaccine even though we travel to her home country to do so and it looks like in May I will be one of the fortunate ones to get a first dose, acknowledging that there is so much work to be done around vaccinating people and adding my voice to doing something about the situation in India and other countries. May is ushering in a first trip for me since September just before we went into this never ending lockdown. I will be going with Ana to Belgrade to visit family, celebrate my 40th birthday not in this apartment, and to hike in nature as much as possible before returning to the concrete of the city. We will be as safe as possible but we can start to talk about planning such things again.

It finally feels as though Spring is opening a bit again. Happy May Day!

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