Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Roman Goddess, Great Grandma Flora Viola and May Day

Celebrating May Day as a holiday on May 1 does not rank very high in the United States. But there was a time it was a principle festival. Ancient Romans held a five day celebration known as the Floralia in honor of Flora, the Goddess of Flowers and Spring. Above is the face of Flora from Sandro Botticelli's painting, Allegory of Spring (circa 1482). (Another painting of Goddess Flora I like is from a Villa di Arianna fresco. She is painted in a yellow robe from the back.)
My Great-Grandmother, Flora Viola Richardson, was born 140 years ago on April 20. I wonder if she was named in honor of the Roman Goddess? And a double floral name? Her mother must have been happy to have a spring daughter.

As was I. Here Kari and her cousins, Christine (left) and Lorrie (right) are displaying their May Day wreathes which Kari made from willow branches. (Circa 1979)
When the Romans occupied the British Isles, their celebration of Flora became entwined with the Druids' May 1 Beltane celebration. Flowers met fires.

The history of the Maypole is uncertain. There seems to be a version of it in the Scandinavian countries and Germany. By the mid-14th century, maypole use was widespread in the British Isles. Every village had its Maypole. A Queen of May was selected to lead the procession followed by the dancing around the Maypole.
My picture of the Maypole was taken in West Des Moines around 1994. It was part of the May Day celebration held at the Jordan House (in background). Until then, I had not realized the intricacies of the dance. "Weave, weave, weave me a rainbow out of the falling rain. Weave me the hope of a new tomorrow, fill my cup again."

The Queen of May in bygone days was always a young maiden. For my own Queen of May, I would choose my Mother, pictured here with two of her great-granddaughters: Alyssa on the left and Katrina on the right. They were all wearing sprigs of crab apple blossoms in their hair. The Queen and her Princesses in 1997. Happy May Day. I hope you are celebrating.


  1. Thanks Mom for the wonderful picture.
    My Princesses were coming into there own then.

  2. A day sublime in joy & sorrow, the zenith of beauty, and also a reminder of the transience of youth, and the endurance of things ancient, consider mountains, pre-historic fossils, skeletons, trees, and other things way beyond the capacity of my tiny mind to comprehend.