May Heralds a Season of Hope

Elizabeth J. Clark, Ph.D., ACSW, MPHSince I was a child, I have loved the month of May. Living in the north, May always seemed to be right on the edge of summer. By Memorial Day, school was all but over for the year. Three months of endless possibilities stretched ahead.

May falls in the middle of spring. In the northern hemisphere, spring begins with the vernal equinox in March. It lasts until the summer solstice in June. Equinoxes and solstices are defined by the earth's tilt and the surf's positions. As the earth tilts towards the sun, the length of daylight increases.

Primitive calendars were determined by cyclical movements in the heavens. Knowing seasonal transitions was essential for understanding the migration of animals hunted for food and for the planting and harvesting of crops. Today we still refer to the full moon in September as the harvest moon, and the full moon in October as the hunter's moon. In May, it is the flower moon.

In ancient times, each new season was accompanied by ritual. The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian Europe, and it is believed that countries of the Roman Empire celebrated the goddess Flora.

May Day was especially popular in England during medieval times. Activities centered around the maypole, a tree collected from the woods and brought to the village to celebrate the coming summer and the renewal of nature. It was a time of courtship and a celebration of human fertility. It was banned by the Puritans in 1544, but resurfaced in the late 1600s. During the Victorian era, May Day was transformed into a celebration of England, not fertility.

May Day changed as political climates changed. In some countries, May Day refers to various labor movements, and the day is used to celebrate the achievements of the working class. Many in the U.S. associated May Day with communism, so in 1958, President Eisenhower officially designated May 1 as Loyalty Day, and our official Labor Day was moved to September.

Some places still celebrate May 1. There is the Celtic celebration of Beltane, which indicates the beginning of the bright half of the year. The People's Republic of China celebrates Wu Vi, which marks the start of one of three "golden weeks," and workers are given three days respite from work. In Hawaii, May Day is celebrated as Lei Day.

I agree that May is a golden season and that it should be celebrated with flowers. When my children were little, they made May baskets of flowers and hung them on neighbors' doorknobs in the early morning hours. It became a family ritual and one of my fondest memories.

May heralds a season of hope, a period of renewal. Social work is the profession of hope. We recognize the importance of hope in our work, and we are holders of hope for our clients, our society and our world. So use this most hopeful month of May to rejuvenate your social work spirits, to shake off the doubts, the worries and the darkness of the cold season.

There are cyclical movements in the universe. While we can't know the future, we can be hopeful about a change in the political climate, an upturn in the economy and greater attention to our environment.

For this May, you are wished both personal and professional growth, reflection on your past accomplishments and a sense of great possibility. May your May basket be overflowing with hope as well as flowers.