May Day

The final tradition of the year is May Day. As everyone knows, the actual May Day is May 1, but Bryn Mawr celebrates May Day as the first Sunday following the end of classes. Thanks to Katherine Dixon '87, who writes that May Day was held on the 1st at Bryn Mawr as late as 1987, possibly later. Sometimes, as in the upcoming May Day 2000, May Day will actually fall in April, but no matter, we go on the same regardless. The most time-intensive tradition in terms of preparation, May Day is a day-long celebration, when all students and faculty put aside their work to join in a big ol' party.

May Day begins with the seniors rising to go wake the President of the College. The traditional wake-up song is "The Hunt is Up," but it has been replaced sporadically with songs such as "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." The seniors then accompany the President to the top of Rockefeller Arch, where the "Magdalen Hymn to the Sun" is sung in hopes of coaxing the sun out of hiding and ensuring a sunny day for the festivities. This song is also often replaced by songs such as "You Are My Sunshine" or "Walking on Sunshine." Whatever the song, it seems to work, because I have never seen a rainy May Day.

After this, everyone attends a class breakfast. The frosh usually eat in Erdman, the sophomores in Haffner, the juniors in Rhoads and the seniors in the Campus Center. Breakfast consists primarily of strawberries and cream, the traditional May Day fare.

Following breakfast, May Day really gets kicked off with a huge parade that begins at Rockefeller Arch and ends on Merion Green. A bagpiper leads the procession, which consists of the President of the College, her attendants, the Traditions Mistresses, the senior class presidents, the Maypole dancers, the Worthies, and the Players. In a Grand May Day parade, which happens once every four years, Queen Elizabeth is added to the list, and it is rumored that elephants and such are brought in for such spectacles.

After the parade, there is Maypole Dancing. Each class gets a Maypole in its class color, and there is a McBride/Graduate Student Maypole in the purple McBride color and the yellow college color. Maypole dancing is done while a group of students sing "To the Maypole." The seniors pretty much win every year, but it is suspected that their pole is fatter, thus using up the ribbon more quickly. Speaking as a senior who helped win the Maypole race, I don't know anything about that.

There are many events throughout the day, including Scottish dancing, Morris dancing, the traditional King Arthur Play, the sophomore class play, the Robin Hood Play, a cappella concerts, various cultural dancing and music displays, and there is always a big concert in the afternoon with such performers as The Nields, Voices on the Verge, and Dar Williams. Katherine Dixon '87 also writes that Pem East used to give a dragon play each year.

A modern contribution to the traditional May Day schedule is the addition of the May Hole dance. A feminist rebuttal to the phallocentric Maypole, the May Hole centers around the ability of women to help each other rise above the bonds of the patriarchy. To begin, everyone participating is bound together in a big circle using toilet paper, which represents the bonds of the patriarchy. One woman begins to free people, and they begin to free more people, soon everyone is free and chanting "Hey, hey, ho, ho, the patriarchy has got to go!" Once everyone is free, they rush to a parachute in the center of the circle and grab hold of it. When it is stretched open, there are hundreds of flower petals in the center of it, which then fly over the crowd. There is usually much dancing and celebrating. It's definitely something that's ONLY done at Bryn Mawr.

Click here to see pictures of May Day.

Like Lantern Night and Parade Night, May Day ends in a Step Sing. This particular Step Sing is usually very emotional, since the end involves singing the goodnight song to the seniors (it is usually sung to the frosh) as the seniors leave the senior steps and the juniors take over. This is also the spot when the juniors become seniors, in a traditional sense, and they obtain the right to begin the college cheer, the Anassa. This moment is impossible to describe. It is an incredible clash of emotion with love for the seniors and the realization that they will soon be gone and the excitement of the juniors in assuming the senior role. It's definitely something unlike anything else I have experienced. All four traditions ultimately culminate in this moment. It is the passing of time and the handing of the torch from one group of leaders to another. The emotions that are felt during it exemplify the highs and lows that one experiences in all of life. It is the birth of something new and the death of something old, extreme joy and extreme pain, the making and the loss of friends, but ultimately, the understanding that life goes on.

May Day is concluded with the traditional showing of "The Philadelphia Story," starring fellow Mawrter Katherine Hepburn.

May Day Pictures | Minor Traditions
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