Rise and Fall

My reading today comes to us from my Congregationalist colleague, Rev. Lillian Daniel, who serves in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

The young women will dance for joy, and the men—old and young—will join in the celebration. I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.”  So says the book of Jeremiah.

In my first year at Bryn Mawr College, one of the five Seven Sisters schools that remains single-sex, I could hardly believe how excited a bunch of jaded, sophisticated, feminist intellectuals got over dancing around a Maypole. But May Day was the highlight of the school year, celebrated the Sunday after classes ended.

The seniors woke the college president outside her home with songs, and then we were off to early class breakfasts and a parade full of medieval pageantry. Women who would never be seen in a dress suddenly appeared in white ones. Thus began an all day party that culminated in each class dancing around the Maypole, weaving the ribbons tighter around the pole as they ducked and weaved, collapsing at the middle, giddy and dizzy, from the circular athletics.

This holiday is associated with Roman, Celtic and Germanic festivals, all of which predate Christianity. When Europe was Christianized, many abandoned the holiday. Unlike some other pagan festivals, May Day did not get a Christian holiday dropped on top of it like a cherry on a sundae.

When my son was in the third grade, he came home as excited as could be with some big news. For a school assembly on dances from around the world, he had been chosen to dance around the Maypole. There on the hot tarmac of an urban public school playground, a diverse group of parents from all over the world watched a rainbow of children dance around the Maypole behind the basketball hoops.

The people on the sidewalk looked on in amusement at the scene. The children forgot all their instructions to skip daintily and merrily and instead tore around like bees in a beehive, laughing and shrieking. But remarkably the ribbons braided themselves beautifully around the pole. An ancient dance from another time wove us together across the ages.

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