Mayday Mayday Mayday
This is not a distress call. I am not in distress. I’ve been told that saying these words falsely over the airwaves is a federal crime in the U.S. and can result in a prison sentence of up to six years and could well mean a fine of a quarter of a million dollars. As I rummage through this wallet, I struggle to see a quarter of ten dollars so let me make this absolutely clear this is not a distress call…ok internet police?
If anyone has been in distress in the last twenty-four hours it was my wife. She sent out a ‘mayday’ call to me last night when her flight was cancelled. She had to overnight in Dusseldorf as the ‘man in the tower’ had said ‘no flying after 10 pm’( likely spoken in that officious tone we all know and love) . Ten pm? Imagine if they had that rule at Heathrow? Chaos would soon ensue. But this plane-load of Irish had to grin and bear it. Instead of spending Beltane in Dublin, they all spent Walpurgis Night in Dusseldorf. You have no idea what I’m talking about? Oh well let me elaborate… These pre cursors to May Day as we Europeans call it were all the rage in pagan times. First the Celts:
Beltane – Recently I completed the rough draft for my Celtic ‘fairytale,’ The Hand of Maeve. In it, my four main episodes cross over the four main Celtic festivals of the day: Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasa and Samhain. You may know these days better now as: All Saints Day, May Day, Lammas, and Halloween (All Hallows Eve). In pre Christian times during Beltane, bonfires were lit and cattle were marched through the smoke created by them. May flowers were left outside the homes of neighbours or worn in the hair as wreaths. Beltane marked the beginning of summer and a time when the pastoral folk of Ireland drove out their cattle. There is also mention of some other rather frisky rituals that would even make the likes of Miley Cyrus blush. That’s right, the pre-Christian Celts may well have invented twerking.
Walpurgis Night – ‘Walpurgisnacht,’ as it is dubbed in Germany, is now named after the English-Born, St Walpurga, who travelled throughout Germany around 800AD converting pagans to Christians. It is likely the pre-Christian Germans had their own pagan rituals at the halfway point between spring equinox and summer solstice but with the influence of the church, it is now celebrated through much of Northern Europe and Scandinavia as Walpurgis Night. One of the most significant events is the lighting of a huge fire on Brocken, a mountain in the centre of Germany. As they say in Germany: “Kein fliegen nach 10 Uhr, aber fühlen Sie sich frei, um ein Feuer auf einem Berg leuchtet”
So here we are. It’s May Day in Ireland and for once I am free of worry and far from distressed. So how did they come up with the saying ‘Mayday Mayday Mayday’ anyway? Believe it or not, in the 1920’s a radio officer in Croydon Airport chose the word after hearing the French expression “venez m’aider” meaning “come help me”. Most of the air traffic to Croydon at the time originated from Le Bourget Airport in Paris.