Growing up in the Northern Hemisphere, May was a time of celebration and people in Europe commemorated the arrival of Spring with music, song, dance, and feasts. The festivals go back to ancient times when pagan rituals were practiced in Church and Secular communities. Fun, fertility, and making merry was the theme, however, cavorting around the maypole did not always go down well with the Church Authorities. The festivities were frequently banned in the 16th Century, only to be restored again by the Merry Monarch Charles the second.
In England, The May Queen was crowned and children danced around the maypole while Morris dancers jigged along to the sound of the bells around their ankles. In Cornwall, the people paraded through the streets to the Floral Dance. Oxford has a centuries-old tradition for May Morning revelers to gather below the Great Tower of Magdalen College at 6 am. Since the 1980s some people then jumped off Magdalen Bridge into the River Cherwell with unfortunate results as the water under the bridge is only 2 or 3 feet deep!
The Irish lit bonfires to scare away evil spirits, reminiscent of Halloween. Throughout Europe, the countries had their own traditions. France gave bouquets of Lily of the valley as a sign good luck, while in Bulgaria sprigs of mugwort (wormwood) was worn in their hats and wine laced with the potent mugwort was drunk. Germany declared the 1st May 1933 “national workers day”! Eventually, in some countries, May Day became an official holiday and is one of the most important holidays in communist countries such as China, North Korea, Cuba, and the former Soviet Union.
Sadly a more sinister event was unfolding in the Spring of 1986 as the people of Europe looked forward to the Mayday Celebrations. On the 26th of April, there was a mighty explosion in the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in Russia.
The May Day Parades continued as planned, as people all over were fleeing the land.
There’s no need to fear, said those in command. The Power Station was known as the ‘Jewel in the Crown of the Ukraine Nuclear Plan’.
It is not the first time a nation’s government has hidden an incident that would prove catastrophic for surrounding countries. Poland and its neighbours bore the brunt of the fall out from the Chernobyl Disaster because of the prevailing wind at the time. Throughout Europe and Scandinavia, radiation levels were dangerously high. It was twenty years before Russians admitted that a second explosion could have wiped out half of Europe.‘The Star of the Wormwood’ was finally revealed.
Thirty years later the Russian Government still does not have a very good track record when it comes to credibility. In March 2018 the whole City of Salisbury came to standstill for several months after the attempted assassination of Russian spy with Novichok Poisoning. It killed an innocent resident and made several people very ill. It cost the British Government millions to clear up the mess and ruined many businesses. Russia is still in denial.
For 30 years Chernobyl held the dubious title of the worst Nuclear disaster resulting in many countries revising their nuclear programmes. Japan took the dubious title over from Russia in March 2011 when an offshore earthquake caused a devastating tsunami. Nuclear stations along the fault line were damaged adding to one of the greatest disasters of all times. New Zealand has had its fair share of natural disasters, and deliberate acts of terrorism are beyond the comprehension of ordinary folk.
Today every town, country, and continent faces the challenges of Covid-19 pandemic, and we are all dependent on the honesty, integrity, and cooperation of every nation and every individual. Here in Raglan the over 70 ‘s have been asked to play their part and stay at home, regardless of what other citizens are doing. We take our hats off to those who have stuck to the rules. We appreciate ordinary people who have administered to the needs of the most vulnerable, and Emergency Services that have gone beyond the call of duty. At the other extreme, some are flaunting the law, but as the most vulnerable we need to be sensible and stay safe.
Our parents and grandparents took up arms, and those on the home front protected those in need. In Lockdown stage three Jacinda and her team have asked the elderly to stay at home and sit in their armchairs. Meanwhile, be careful in the garden as the wet weather has made some areas slippery. Take extra care, as a sprained ankle or a broken arm, are difficult to deal with when social distancing and may take essential services away from the needs of the pandemic.
Stay Safe Pauline Abrahams