By DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI
A 12-foot pole with colorful ribbons flowing from a circle of flowers stood in Watchung Plaza Tuesday, May 1, waiting to kick off the 40th annual opening ceremony for May in Montclair. It was May Day in Montclair, also known in the Pagan religions, particularly Celtic Druidry, as Beltaine, and here it marks the beginning of a month-long celebration of spring.
Edgemont School third graders, under the direction of teacher Max Mellman, danced around the Maypole, criss-crossing each other while singing the folk song “Circle Left, Circle Right.” According to Mellman the children assisted with the arrangements and modifications to the music.
Other performances at the ceremony included Watchung School fourth- and fifth-graders under the direction of Henry Boote, and Northeast School’s Blue Hawks Band, consisting of fifth-graders under the direction of teacher Shawn Dey.
Later that evening, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair celebrated with a small ceremony in its Rotunda, led by Silke Springorum of Montclair. An altar was set up with symbols of the holiday and an arrangement of daffodils and other spring flowers. Participants were asked to share what the day means to them and past May Day memories.
Dancing around the Maypole is a long standing tradition predating Christianity. In the Celtic Pagan tradition the Druid holiday begins at dusk on April 30 and continues through May 1 sundown. It marks the halfway point between the Vernal Equinox (Ostara, March 20) and the summer Solstice (Litha, June 21). Beltaine (“the bright one” and “fire”) celebrates the light half of the year, the feast of summer, the beginning of the crop and pasturing season.
The dance of the Maypole is a symbolic joining of the Earth Mother Goddess Danu and the father God. A pole, often birch, is placed into the earth to represent the God and the flowers in a circle on top represent the Goddess. The ribbon is a symbol of the joining of the earth and sky, the union or marriage of the two deities. The weaving ribbons dance also symbolizes the spiral of life. Rituals include dancing around a bonfire, jumping over the fire to cleanse or purify and for fertility, taking cattle and other animals through the smoke for fertility, and the crowning of the May Queen and King.