Berger’s Burg: I waited all year for this — the beginning of May

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Oh! Ring the bells, Oh! Ring the bells! We bid you all, “Good Morning.”

Give thanks we pray, and flowers are gay, And fair for your adorning.

- 19th Century Children’s Song

At last, May, the fifth month of the year, has arrived. I waited a full year for it to come around and I will certainly embrace it for its full 31 days.

However, did you know that in early Roman days, when their calendar (or was it their fiscal) year began in March, May was actually the third month of the year? I am exalted that it was changed. I wouldn’t want May to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.

There are several stories about how the month was named. No, it was not named after baseball's great Willie Mays. Nor was it named after my dear, departed Aunt May whose last name, interestingly enough, was March Do you know why May was chosen for her first name instead of April or June? Well, if you do, tell me.

Some historians believe that the month was named for “Maia,” the Roman goddess of spring and growth. Where was she during those recent cold mornings of spring when we froze our you-know-what off?

A second story has it that May was short for “majors,” Latin for “older men.” It was also thought that the Romans held May sacred to the “juniors,” or younger men. Now I know why I love May so much - I’m really very young at heart.

Many years ago, the British referred to this month as “Thrimilce,” which means “to milk three times.” New grass was plentiful during this month and the cows had more to eat, so they produced more milk. With fuller tanks, the cows were milked three times a day, instead of the usual two. In “udder” words, the there was more ounce to the bounce.

May includes many important celebrations, such as the observance of “Asian/Pacific American Heritage” Month. Also, “May Day” on the first, is the occasion that welcomes in spring and flowers. Children in the United States and Great Britain celebrate by dancing around a Maypole, a custom that goes back to the ancient Romans.

England held a spring festival in honor of Flora, the goddess of flowers. Since they considered the pine tree to be sacred, they made the tree a part of the celebration. When the Romans conquered England, the pine tree became the Maypole. Gee, it certainly was nice of the Romans not to have chosen the sequoia tree. Otherwise, it would have taken the tykes a month of Sundays to dance around it.

They would set the pole on the village green and decorate it with flowers and ribbons. A May Queen was picked and crowned with flowers. Hmm? What if the only candidates vying for the title of Queen were Rosie O’Donnell and Barbara Streisand? Would they have canceled the election and chosen a May King instead?

The celebrants danced around the Maypole, holding the ends of ribbons that ran down from the top of the pole. As the people danced, they wove the brightly colored ribbons under and over and around the Maypole. Thus began the ancient art of crocheting.

Over time, however, a few grumps in England believed that the merrymakers were worshiping the maypole, so a law was passed forbidding it. (See, even then, their lawyers were just like our lawyers.) But the maypole ceremony was soon reinstated, and, to this day, school children on May Day still sing and dance around the Maypole.

May is also blessed with many other memorable dates. May 3 is the National Day of Prayer. May 5, or "Cinco de Mayo," is celebrated in Mexico. This was the day in 1862 when Mexico defeated the French in the “Battle of Puebla.” Who among us has never heard of that great General - Ignacio Zaragoza? Also on the same date, Japan celebrates Children’s Day, a time when symbols of strength, courage and determination are displayed. The young boys and girls are brought into the Shinto shrines, where the priests bless them and wave white paper streamers over their heads.

Of course, May 13 brings us to the mother of all holidays - Mother's Day. This is the time when mothers have the dubious distinction of being transported to a restaurant for dinner. There they sit, trapped in an immobile car, ensconced in holiday traffic. The madres wait in their seats, quietly and patiently, displaying a frozen smile across their lips. They then thank their children for this unique pleasure when, at long last, they are finally brought home at its conclusion. They are grateful that Mother's Day comes around just once a year.

May 8 is V.E. Day, when in 1945 Germany surrendered unconditionally, ending the war in Europe.

May 19 is Armed Forces Day and a splendid time for everyone to thank our current military AND our veterans, for the freedom we enjoy today. May 17 is the date in 1954 when the Supreme Court rendered its monumental school-desegregation decision in “Brown v. Board of Education,” leading to the famous forced integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. in 1957.

May is also the time for Gloria and me to renew acquaintances with the animals in the Bronx Zoo, who then remind us to rush over to the Flushing Meadows Zoo to feed their smaller friends. I also enjoy smelling the roses at the Queens Botanical Garden, and to watch our Mets at Shea Stadium.

But best of all, I love to plant an additional flower in my garden. As an old Chinese proverb put it: If you want to be happy for an hour - get drunk; if you want to be happy for three days - get married; if you want to be happy for eight days - kill your pig and eat it. But, if you want to be happy forever - make a garden.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at Times-Ledger@aoLcom or call 718-229-030O, Ext. 139

Updated 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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