On the Shelf

By Paul Guffin

May, the Month

The month of May is the fifth month in both the Julian and Gregorian calendars. So, whether you’re an old-timer (Julian) or a modernista (Gregorian), you observe the month together. It is the third of seven months in the year to have a length of 31 days (and the fifth of twelve to have 28 days).

The name of the month entered the English language in the 1050s. It is drawn from the Old English Maius, which was borrowed directly from the Latin Maius, indicating the Greek goddess Maia. She was the daughter of Atlas and Pleione, and the oldest of the Pleiades (the companions of Artemis, goddess of the hunt). Because the Pleiades were daughters of Atlas, they were also called the Atlantides. Maia is the mother of Hermes (messenger of the Gods, and known as Mercury to the Romans), who was fathered by Zeus. The Romans also had a goddess named Maia, who embodied the concept of growth. So, it is possible that the two goddesses were conflated into the naming of the month. It should probably also be noted that the Roman poet Ovid provided a second etymology for the month’s name: he said that the month of May was named for the maiores (Latin for “elders”), and that the following month, June, was named for the iuniores (Latin for “young people”).

May’s birthstone is the emerald, emblematic of love and success. The month’s birth flowers are the Lily of the Valley and the Common Hawthorn. Zodiac minders will find the bull, Taurus, wandering through the first part of the month, and then being chased out of the month by a set of twins, the Gemini.

Each month has its share of observance and celebrations. Here are some of May’s month-long observances:

Working Class History Month

Better Hearing and Speech Month

Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month

National Pet Month (United Kingdom)

National Smile Month (United Kingdom)

Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Bicycle Month (United States)

World Trade Month

National Foster Care Month (United States)

Older Americans Month (United States)

Some moveable observances during May:

First Thursday: Arbour Day (Nova Scotia, Canada) & National Day of Reason (United States)

First Sunday: World Laughter Day

First full week: National Teacher Appreciation Week (United States)

First Tuesday: World Asthma Day

Saturday closest to May 10: National Train Day (United States)

Second weekend: World Migratory Bird Day

Second Sunday: Mother’s Day (lots of countries)

Week of May 12: National Nursing Week (United States)

Last weekend: Kyiv Day (Kyiv, Ukraine)

And, finally, some fixed observances during the month:

May 1:May Day (international observance)

May 3:World Press Freedom Day

May 4:Anti-bulling Day (United Nations) & Star Wars Day (international observance)

May 5:Children’s Day (Japan, Korea)

May 9:Europe Day (European Union)

May 12:International Nurses Day

May 15:International Day of Families

May 18:International Museum Day

May 20:World Metrology Day (a celebration of the metric system)

May 21:World Day for Cultural Diversity, Dialogue and Development

May 23:World Turtle Day

May 25:International Missing Children’s Day

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