May is a heady month. It's a robust, fecund, hopeful time when the earth and its inhabitants are preparing for the glorious days when the vine is heavy, the corn is high in the field, and the living is easy. In Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom" speak, we might say we are in nature’s cycle of renewal. In other words, the whole planet—from honey bee to muskrat to grizzly bear—is waking up and getting it on.
Since ancient times, people have been inspired by all this earthly delight and have sought to harness this energy through ritual and ceremony to ensure their own fertility and bountiful harvest.
The Celtic people were big on fire, using it in ceremonies of purification and rejuvenation. Young men leapt across fires to ensure fertility. Cows were driven between two bonfires to cleanse them of evil spirits and bring buckets of sweet milk. Little did these folks know, they were just a beer and a basting away from another great spring ritual, the barbecue.
In towns and villages across Europe, this is the time of year young men drag a tree from the forest, hack off its limbs, and erect it in the village square for the popular May Pole phallus dance. In Japan, they don’t bother with symbolism. They just parade huge penises through the center of town in the Kanamara Matsuri Festival held in Kawasaki (technically, that was last month, but close enough).
Everywhere, except maybe South Dakota, which got 36 inches of snow this morning, there are reminders that it’s time to shave, break out the Bermudas, and get ready to fly your freak flag.
But May is not just about revelry, it’s about remembering. There’s Cinco de Mayo, or as it’s known in America, Cerveza Day, a celebration of the battle in which 5,000 Mexican soldiers trounced France’s better dressed, better armed, and much larger army. There’s May Day, which honors workers who, a little more than a century ago, gave their lives so you could get off work in time for happy hour. And, of course, there’s Memorial Day, when we honor the many brave men and women who’ve given so much in the name of freedom. Though laborers don’t get their due until September, when we officially celebrate Labor Day with the traditional price slashing at malls and car dealerships, Americans do remember the hardest working among us during the month of May: Mothers.
So here’s to a ripe and randy world, which prods the industrious honey bee toward prolific pollination, which ensures a bountiful harvest, which keeps the wine flowing, which allows us to raise a glass to courage, and to all the workers of the world, especially Mom.
Break out the barbecue, crack open a cold one, and let the rituals begin. May is on.