by Deborah Ann Tripoldi
A rainbow of ribbons swirled in the air intertwining the Maypole as children performed the ritual dance for May in Montclair’s opening ceremonies at Watchung Plaza Monday, May 1.
Before a crowd that included Mayor Robert Jackson, councilmembers Renée Baskerville and Richard McMahon, and Deputy Township Manager Brian P. Scantlebury, about 50 Edgemont School first-graders under the direction of music teacher Max Mellman sang “Here We Go Round the Maypole High” as they circled the 10-12 foot tall pole. The pole was dressed with ribbons in every color of the rainbow with a crown of flowers at the very top.
“The dance the children perform looks very simple but is complicated. A very impressive bunch of first-graders,” said Mellman.
The event was organized by May in Montclair Committee members Ellyn Minor and Margot Cochran. The Rev. Dave Shaw of Union Congregational United Church of Christ gave the invocation. May in Montclair Chair Karen Shinevar asked the children if any of them planted tulips or flowers in the garden. “We couldn’t have a May Day celebration without [the students],” she said. “The sun came out for you,” she added.
Watchung School fourth- and fifth-graders under the direction of music teacher Henry Boote sang “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles and “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In” by The 5th Dimension. The event concluded with Northeast School fifth- and sixth-graders performing the instrumentals “The Thunderer” and “Cyberspace Overture,” directed by music teacher Shawn Dey.
According to Cyndee Rowan, vice chair for May in Montclair, the township celebration began in 1979. Mellman believes Montclair’s Maypole ceremony started about 15 years ago.
Why do people dance around a giant pole on the first day of May? According to New World Encyclopedia, the custom dates back to a pre-Christian Celtic celebration of Beltaine, the third of four fire festivals marking the turning of the seasons; also known as the Wheel of the Year. The other three are Samhain (Oct. 31), Imbolc (Feb. 2) and Lughnasadh (Aug. 1). For followers of European indigenous religions, Beltaine marks the beginning of summer. Samhain and Beltaine divide the calendar in half: winter honoring the dead and summer celebrating life. Beltaine is also the last of three spring fertility festivals, the others being Imbolc, or lambing time, and Ostara, the Spring Equinox. It was the start of the light half of the year when its opposite, Samhain marks the beginning of the dark half, when the days grow shorter. These two Sabbats are considered to be the most important of the eight. The word “Beltaine” derives from the Celtic God Bel and “teine,” the Gaelic word for fire. Celts light a bonfire to honor the sun to encourage a bountiful harvest. The Maypole symbolizes the joining of the God and Goddess; to the Celts she is usually known as Danu.
Those who missed Monday’s colorful ritual can join the festivities on Saturday, May 20, when St. James Episcopal Church will host a Renaissance Faire sponsored by Montclair Early Music and St. James Players. “Robin Hood at the May Faire” will take place on the front lawn of the church at 581 Valley Road, beginning at 1:30 p.m.
“We will be crowning Robin Hood and Maid Marion,” said Julienne Pape of Montclair Early Music. This is symbolic of crowning of the May queen and king, she explained. “Sometimes the May king and queen are Robin Hood and Maid Marion, but [they don’t] have to be,” she added.
“Children would go out in the woods and bring back branches and flowers and leave at people’s doorsteps,” said Pape. Children will be dressed as fairies and perform “The fairy round.” They will also give out flowers during the “May Day Song.”
There will also be instrumental music of the 15th century. “It will be something very unusual. I don’t think people have seen these instruments before,” said Pape.
Performers at the May Faire include Montclair Early Music Recorder Consort, Ring A-Bell Morris Dancers, Musica Tramontano, Madrigal Singers, St. James Shakespeare Company and Phil Delp. Harpist Christa Patton is the music director.
Attendees are encouraged to wear Robin Hood attire or floral garlands. Admission is free; registration is required by May 19. To register or for more information, visit montclairearlymusic.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-943-0610.