The Basement Files

‘May-ry’ May Day to everyone

“May-ry” Christmas everyone. It seems Winter, the ice queen, plows forth with her final push to retain power here in the upper Midwest, so this May Day Wednesday was spent inside, when it should have been spent outside, puffing a stogie and listening to progressive rock a tad too loud on my deck. You know, what I do every nice day because I really don’t have a social life.

Not this year, though, May, as April before it, is cold and miserable and boring. But, as I’m not usually basement-bound during this month, it has given me extra time to read up on the month, and learn about this whole “May Day” thing I keep hearing about.

May Day — the day

May 1 is May Day. It’s a day people seem to remember, but never seem to remember why. So what is it? Well, to put it bluntly, it’s a whole bunch of stuff that probably started the way most festivities started before there were organized sporting events. It was a reason to go out and get hammered. I have no proof of this, it’s just my theory.

The “academic” origin however comes from pre-Christian Rome, or thereabouts, where they took the day to celebrate the goddess Flora, the goddess of, you guessed it, flowers and such. In post-Christian Rome, the Roman Catholics recognize May as the month of Mary, with May Day a celebration of her.

How do you celebrate this day? Well, there are traditions like “dancing around the maypole” and such, but I want to bring back the “May baskets.” Traditionally, these baskets would be filled with flowers, and sometimes other goodies, (if you ladies are wondering, any of a number of budget stogies would do just fine in a basket for me) and left on a person’s doorstep. You knocked on the door, and run away when the person answers. When they do, they give chase, and if they catch you, you are greeted with a kiss. A big old smooch, and for someone as out of shape as me, that could mean a lot of smooches. Unless it was the girls who were supposed to leave the baskets. My literature wasn’t too specific on the specifics.

Unfortunately, as with many innocent things out there, this day was corrupted. May baskets gave way to flaming paper bags, and flowers gave way to hammers and sickles. Yes, the Communists ruined it by claiming May 1 as “International Worker’s Day,” and like everything the Communists touch, it became awful. That’s not a political statement. Don’t get your pants in a bunch, but I’m just saying.

May day — the distress call

Apart from being May 1, “May day” is also the internationally used distress call. When in distress, the call is made three straight times, then the location and nature of the emergency is relayed. May day is a play on the French phrase “venez m’aider,” meaning “come help me.” This word was chosen by Frederick Stanley Mockford, a London-based radio officer, after he was asked to come up with a phrase that was easily recognizable and easy to understand. Since a lot of air traffic at the time was between London and Paris, the thought was pilots would be able to understand the “code.”

Guess he was right, the call stuck, and replaced the older distress code “SOS,” which, for the record doesn’t stand for anything. Not “Save Our Ship,” or “Save Our Souls,” or whatever. “SOS” was chosen because it was easily recognizable as Morse code, but that’s another ship for another day.

Chris Hamble is a freelance writer and humor columnist serving newspapers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and is a lifelong Stillwater resident.