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Celebrate the coming of spring by observing Arbor, May days

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A little seed for me to sow. A little earth to make it grow. A little hole, a little pat, a little wish and that is that. A little sun, a little shower, a little while and then a flower.

See the children circling the Maypole, round and round they go. With swinging hips and giggling lips, when will they stop? No one knows.

Not long ago, when the world was younger and innocent, two holidays were celebrated every spring. But I noticed that they are no longer with us. They ebbed away while I was not looking.

They were not celebrations of prime importance, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, or semi−important, like Halloween or Valentine’s Day. They were just pleasant, special days. The best thing about them was you did not have to go out and buy things. That was what probably spelled their doom, and we are poorer for not having them anymore.

Arbor Day, celebrated on the last Friday in April, was not much of a holiday. But it did have some nice features. Children would get a little fresh air when they were lined up and sent out to the front of their schools to watch a tree being planted.

That was all. Some ecologically concerned people in 1970 tried to resuscitate Arbor Day and transform it into Earth Day. But Earth Day is nothing like Arbor Day and misses its simplicity.

Earth Day is concerned with weighty matters, from water conservation to nuclear testing to global warming. It is a field day for politicians, not trees. While local politicians might have appeared on Arbor Day, they had to couch all their pontifications in tree terms. Not much latitude for them to campaign heavily.

May Day, celebrated on the first day in May, was a popular holiday hundreds of years ago in England. It was celebrated with orgies, drinking and general carrying−on. A good May Day celebration helped increase the British Isles’ population the following winter, even in the teeth of plague and pestilence. We never celebrated it as passionately, but for a while, it was a children’s annual school activity. And it was a low−budget production.

Every May 1, schoolchildren from all over the greater New York area were bused into parks and playgrounds to dance merrily around maypoles. Gym teachers spent weeks instructing children to dance in step and to wind banners around the poles without colliding with one another. Sewing teachers worked all spring, helping girls to assemble little white costumes. And music teachers dusted off musical recordings of Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees” to provide merry−mo­nth−of­May background.

The sun always shone its brightest and perspiring principals, teachers, parents and politicians would assemble to watch sweating little boys and girls fling themselves around the maypoles. Heat stroke was the only negative aspect of the day, but there were fresh flowers, picnics, gaily colored streamers and a prize for the best school maypole.

But then, without warning, the annual salute to May suddenly vaporized. Since no one lost money when it died, there was no outcry to start it up again.

It is true many people were never thrilled at the sight of maples being planted at schools. And many hated having to sew a white dress to go maypole dancing in. So why should I lament the passing of these two insignificant holidays? Because those were the last holidays we did not have to empty our pockets for.

From July 4th’s mandatory barbecues to New Year’s obligatory drinking parties, from Abe Lincoln’s white sales to Christopher Columbus’ washing machine clearances, from the rising prices for trick−or−treat candy to breaking the bank to buy Valentine chocolates, we do not have a holiday left that doesn’t cost us — except perhaps the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, when fasting is the order of the day.

And very few that we do not have to juggle weekends for. Both holidays were just days to celebrate inexpensive, pleasant things: a tree and spring.

So, readers, join me in an underground movement for their restoration. On Arbor Day, just drop an acorn somewhere, and on May Day, dance around a tree. If you receive a card wishing you a happy Arbor Day or a joyous May Day, you will know we did it.

I awoke early one morning. The earth lay cool and still. Suddenly, a tiny bird perched on my window sill. He sang of far off places, laughter and fun. It seemed his trilling brought up the morning sun.

I carefully crept out of bed and threw my shoe at him. I am not a morning person.

Contact Alex Berger at news@timesledger.com.

Posted 6:34 pm, October 10, 2011
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