May Day, Mayday, M’Aider!

Today is “May Day”… May 1st.

And every time I think of that, the distress call uttered by pilots and boat captains in trouble pops into my mind.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday!” I hear them calling.

So I started wondering, what it is about May 1st that’s connected somehow with danger?

Turns out… absolutely nothing.

May Day, the holiday, has been around for thousands of years. For the Druids of the British Isles, it was the second-most important day of the year, according to It marked the middle of the year, and was celebrated with cleansing fires — a symbol of the spring sun.

Couples would walk through the smoke for good luck… nothing distressful about that.

Then the Romans came, and they used early May to celebrate Flora, the goddess of flowers, through feasting.

By the Middle Ages, the day had transformed into a festival for children, complete with the maypole: an elaborate ribbon-strewn pole constructed by each village, all attempting to have the highest one (just like the “tallest building in the world” race that continues today).

Kids would take hold of the ribbons and dance merrily around the maypole, weaving them into one complete unit. Again, no distress there!

In contrast to all this celebration, the distress call (which is always uttered three times for clarity: “Mayday, mayday, mayday!”) has nothing to do with May Day.

It comes from the French “m’aider,” which, as any Canadian who has been through the school system can tell you, means simply “help me!

Now why the heck didn’t I figure that one out on my own?

Keep Unwrapping the Mysteries of Life!