Thursday, May 1, 2008

Obscure holiday leaving you a basket case?

As I understand it, the tradition used to be that the May basket was supposed to be left on someone's doorstep. When you ring the doorbell, you are supposed to run away. Where I grew up, that’s not what kids left on your doorstep when they rang the bell and ran away.

What I remember about May 1 were scenes on the evening news of the Russians holding big parades where tanks rolled by and the red army marched past a bunch of really old men from the Kremlin. It looked like it was their 4th of July or something. Growing up in the cold war, that certainly didn’t seem like a holiday that any red (er, uh, red, white, and blue) blooded American kid would want to be a part of.

The truth of the matter is, May Day is an American invention. It’s supposed to be about the little guy, the blue collar, working class regular Joe who puts in his 8, 10, or 14 hour day trying to make a decent living for his family. But like so many things that began here, May Day has become an international celebration. And like a lot of things, Americans decided that we couldn’t like it if Europeans did.

Back on May 4, 1886 there was a rally in the Haymarket of Chicago. Workers were protesting low wages and unfair treatment. They wanted the right to organize unions that would be able to bargain collectively, on behalf of employees, with business owners and management.

Someone threw a bomb at the cops who were trying to disperse the crowd and things got out of hand. No one really knows who actually threw it, but eight agitators were arrested and tried for the murders. Four were put to death, and one committed suicide in prison. Five of the eight were German immigrants. Their sentencing set off a huge growth in unions in Europe. And concern for how America treats it’s immigrants.

Okay, okay. May Day isn’t really all that American. Germans and Scandinavians celebrated it long before Christianity came to Europe. May first is the day, according to legend that the Tunic god Oden (the Norse knew him as Thor) died in order to discover some secret magic power from some people called the Runes or something. Europeans celebrated by lighting bonfires, going on runs, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and dancing around poles. American college students do the same thing only they call it Spring Break.

Neo-Pagans have been trying to bring it back. They call the holiday “Walpurgisnacht,” probably another reason it doesn’t get celebrated her in the states. Can you imagine wishing people “Merry Walpurgisnacht?” Happy Walpurgisnacht. have you made any resolutions for Walpurgisnacht? What are you doing Walpurgisnacht Eve?

As much as I admire the working man, I’m not much for celebrating pagan holidays, so once again (remember February) I would like to offer readers an alternative (if somewhat obscure and esoteric) holiday for the first week in May. Cartoonist Appreciation Week, May 3-10.

National Cartoonist Day is every year on May 5. The very first comic strip, The Yellow Kid, appeared in a newspaper on May 5, 1895. But this year they decided to have it on May 3. I think because they couldn’t get Congress to make it a federal holiday, nobody can get the Monday off, so cartoonists wanted it on a Friday night so they can party.

A highlight of Cartoonist Appreciation Week is Free Comic Book Day, also May 3. Participating comic book specialty retailers around the world give away free comic books to any unsuspecting kids who make the mistake of entering their stores. Sort of like how drug dealers give you the first hit for free because they know they’re going to get you hooked.

If it’s that important to you to hold on to the old holiday’s connection to labor unions, you might be interested to know that cartoonists have their own union. The National Cartoonists Society is the world's largest organization of professional cartoonists, Founded in 1946, one of their goals is "to stimulate and encourage interest in and acceptance of the art of cartooning by aspiring cartoonists, students and the general public." I’m not a member because I can’t afford the dues. Maybe someday.

If you happen to know a cartoonist, you may want to send them a card or something. Preferably with a generous gratuity inside. Or perhaps you should bake them a pie, or a plate of cookies. Chocolate chip or oatmeal would be nice, but cartoonists don’t usually like raisins very much. Or marshmallows. Cartoonists hate marshmallows.

By the way, the distress call “Mayday, Mayday” has absolutely nothing to do with the first day of May. It comes from the French phrase “venez m'aider,” meaning “come to my aid!” Thought you’d like to know.

'Ted's Column' has appeared weekly in the Charter Oak-Ute NEWSpaper since 2002 and the Schleswig Leader since 2004. In 2007 the Mapleton PRESS, which published both of the smaller paper, "absorbed" both the Leader and the NEWSpaper. But the PRESS is not exactly a major metro daily, it runs once a week and has an official circulation of 2130 with an estimated total readership of around 4260. So if you're ever in Western Iowa, at a gas station on a Thursday, buy a copy, we appreciate your support.

No comments:

Post a Comment