By Lindsey Whitmore '07
The Mount Holyoke community will officially usher in the arrival of spring with the annual May Pageant Friday, April 28, from 1 to 3 pm on Skinner Green. Sponsored by the Pagan and Wiccan Collective, Eliot House, and the May Pageant Committee, the festival will feature a traditional Celtic maypole dance at 2 pm, along with face painting, garland making, an accupressurist, and vendors selling jewelry and other goods on the green. The Diversions, an a cappella group, will also sing traditional maypole songs at 1:30 pm, followed by a student dance performance at 1:45 pm.
"The tradition began in 1896 and was themed 'Robin Hood,' " said Stephanie Robinson '08, who has spent time researching the history of May Pageant in the College archives. "It began as an Old English festival with maypole dances and the election and crowning of a May Queen. Gradually plays and dance performances were incorporated. Each year students would put on plays that related to the theme of the year. Themes would focus on literature from a certain region of the world or drama that reflected the culture of the particular region."
In the 1960s and 1970s the event dropped off a bit, due partially to the emphasis on electing a May Queen and her court, which eventually became somewhat of a popularity contest. Some years, the senior class was required to elect a May Queen who was at least 5' 5''. During the 1930s, they were required to alternate between picking blond and brunette May Queens each year. In the late 1970s the event stopped happening all together.
"Five years ago the Pagan and Wiccan Collective formed a committee and brought back the pageant," said Alexis Chapman '06, of the Pagan/Wiccan Collective. "Since then the celebration has only grown larger and more festive."
With its roots in the traditional Celtic celebration of Beltane, today the pageant is centered on the 25-foot maypole created by the art department and maintained and repaired each year by facilities management. Dancers will weave colored ribbons around the pole, which represents the union of the energies of the earth and sky, especially the energies of love and fertility that are associated with the emergence of spring. A table with further information about the history and tradition of Beltane will also be available in Blanchard this week.
The event is free and community members are welcome to attend and join in the maypole dance. The pageant will be preceded by the all-campus Pangy picnic from 11:30 am to 1 pm on Pageant Green. The first annual Roots of Community Festival will follow from 3 to 7 pm on Skinner Green.
Significant May Pageant Dates
Mary Woolley's inauguration preceded the pageant and the festivities were particularly splendid that year in her honor.
The "Pageant of the Branches of Learning" incorporated many regions at once, in a kind of international festival.
Because the country was at war these years, the pageant was simplified and had a nationalistic theme, with red, white, and blue colors dominating.
The twentieth anniversary of Mary Woolley's inauguration was celebrated at May Pageant with a cast of 300 performing Book 1 of Spenser's The Faerie Queene in her honor.
A cast of 200 performed the Aeneid to commemorate the anniversary of Virgil's birth.