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History Watch

April 30, 2018

Marin history: May Day festivities

 San Rafael’s West End School students dressed as dream fairies and daisies for May Day in 1931. (Courtesy of Marin History Museum)

San Rafael’s West End School students dressed as dream fairies and daisies for May Day in 1931. (Courtesy of Marin History Museum)

Posted in Marin Independent Journal: 04/30/18

For thousands of years, people have celebrated May Day as a springtime festival by giving and wearing flowers, gathering for music, feasting and dancing (sometimes around a maypole), and commemorating the sowing of seeds and the planting of crops. The young students of San Rafael’s West End School dressed as dream fairies and daisies for their observance of the festivities on May 1, 1931.

West End School was at 1821 Fifth Ave. and served the families of San Rafael’s western neighborhoods from 1924 until its closure in 1974 because of falling enrollment. That fall, the site was converted into an off-campus childcare center for low-income mothers in College of Marin’s women’s re-entry program. Today the former school is home to the Rotary Manor Senior Community.

May is named for the goddess Maia, a Greek and Roman goddess of fertility. The earliest recorded May Day celebrations were in honor of Flora, the Roman Goddess of youth, spring and flowers. The traditional dancing around a maypole and crowning of a “May Queen” evolved in early, medieval Germany and Britain, and were staples of celebrations in the United States until the 1950s. At that time, the fear and hysteria of communism and socialism eclipsed the historical meaning behind the festival as worldwide labor organizations and countries such as Russia and China had adopted May 1 as International Worker’s Day. In a bizarre twist of irony, the U.S. government responded by designating the first of May as “Loyalty Day” and subsequently “Law Day.” Traditional May Day celebrations were discontinued in American schools and towns as few felt the desire to commemorate “Law Day.” There has been a resurgence of traditional May Day celebrations within the last few decades, and maybe we will see more daisies and dream fairies in the coming years.

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