How did the month of May get its name?
I’ve always been fascinated by etymology, so I couldn’t resist checking the dictionary on this one. It turns out that May is named for Maia, an ancient Roman fertility goddess.
This makes sense, as May is the heart of springtime in the Northern Hemisphere, the season when the increasingly direct rays of the sun finally overcome winter’s icy grip and the tulips and daffodils in a riot of colors once again add cheer to our lives.
Here in the desert, we have more cacti than tulips or daffodils, but it’s the thought that counts.
When I was a kid, May was the time of year I could start collecting insects and rocks. It was almost the end of the school year, with the tantalizing languor of the lengthy summer vacation just over the horizon.
Although the start of the month is a time for recognizing labor in some nations, I hold romantic visions of children dancing around the may pole with colorful streamers.
In the United States, the three-day Memorial Day weekend comes at the end of May, a holiday on which we remember the soldiers who have died, in wars extending back decades and centuries, to assure the security of our nation for future generations. I’ve discovered that Memorial Day was not officially named by the U.S. federal government in 1967, which explains why my parents always referred to the holiday as Decoration Day during my childhood (a reference to the decoration of graves with flowers).
As we begin the summer season, we also celebrate our families, with Mothers’ Day this month and Fathers’ Day next.
I’ve always thought of May as a celebration of possibilities. With the limitations of the winter behind us, we look forward to outdoor activities, family gatherings, road trips. If New Year’s is a time for resolutions to make difficult self-improvements, May is the time to plan for whatever your idea of fun may be. Whether you look forward to vacations, sports, gardening, weekends at the lake or beach, or just shucking off the coat and going for a walk, May is the time for making plans for what we really want to do, not what we ought to do.
In a sense, May is the month to celebrate our personal freedom. It is the time of year when we give ourselves permission to engage in the activities that we really enjoy, when we finally give in and tell ourselves “yes.”
Perhaps that’s the real reason this month is named May.