By Forest Riggs –
Like the old saying states, April roared in like a lion (well, maybe a small one) and went out like a lamb. April was a fun month on the Island, with lots of events that brought friends, family and visitors to the Island. The Tall Ships came and went, tall drinks came and went and even a few tall men came and went.
With the onset of warmer weather and more sunny days, the beaches are busy with folks coming from all over, not to mention the heavy traffic up and down the Seawall that comes this time of year. Galvestonians are used to it and look forward to the arrival of spring and the coming of a tourist-filled summer ahead.
Finally, sweet May comes along and brings lots of sunshine, fun and merriment for locals and visitors. The three “confessed” gay bars are revving up their shows, special events and celebrations, all in anticipation of long and lusty hot summer. There are still a few bars that are “gay friendly;” for lack of a better term, the locals refer to them as “stray bars.” In the end, if you’re looking for good times, good people, drag, drag, drag and more drag, you’d best stay with the Big Three: Robert’s Lafitte, 23rd Street Station and Rumors Beach Bar. Having said this, it is pretty clear that just about any bar on the island welcomes the LGBTQ folks and their friends.
So what about this May Pole thing? Probably not what you are thinking. Nevertheless it is a tradition celebrated throughout the world and “Winding the May Pole” is considered in many cultures to be a universal welcome of summer. No matter what you have heard, winding this pole will not cause blindness or hair to grow in palms!
The actual origin of the tradition, like so many pre-Christian things, is not very clear. Early European Folk history records May Pole events, held on the first day of May (AKA May Day) beginning as early as medieval and early modern times. There were dances and festivals held around the erected wooden pole, thought by some to represent the world axis (axis mundi), reverence for sacred trees and even a huge phallic symbol by some in honor of the Roman god, Priapus. For the most part and with the onset of Christianity, the phallic May Pole became a symbol of the return of summer and new vegetation. Sort of seems like the promotion of Christianity took the fun out of things!
Primarily a European thing, “Winding the May Pole” spread to many lands, especially wherever the Germanic peoples went and settled as they had participated in the tradition since very early medieval times. Gotta love those Germans!
Winding the May Pole remains present in popular culture, as well. The British horror movie, The Wicker Man uses the pagan sexual May Pole interpretation as the basis of the story. May Pole winding is featured in an episode of the popular Mad Men, The Odd Couple and even the movie Frozen.
Different towns and villages, as well as various groups of people, often select winding colors that represent the town, sect of belief system. Last year on May Day, I was on East Beach (the “gay beach”) with a group of friends and we came across a group of LGBTQ friends winding a May Pole, celebrating with song, dance and drink. They were dancing, winding long strands of fabric, making up the rainbow flag. It was fun to watch their enthusiasm and joy as the beautiful colors splayed themselves around the pole. It was not a “freedom” flag but it was a symbol of beautiful freedom, regardless of the shape.
Winding the May Pole is not as popular as it once was, but with more people looking for ways to celebrate and find some joy in a world filled with disillusion and shallowness, getting a group of friends together and winding a May Pole could again become a fun tradition.
This May, why not start a new tradition with an old, old practice that could stand reviving. Get some friends together, pick your colors, pack a cooler and head to the beach, park or even a backyard. Wind that pole and wind it good! Though you won’t go blind or grow hair in your palms, you will have a good time and make some positive and happy memories. Welcome summer.
Forest Riggs, a resident of Galveston is no stranger to the adventures of life. A former educator and business owner, he enjoys Island life and all that comes with it. He says he is a “raconteur with a Quixotic, gypsy spirit.” He has written for several newspapers and magazines as well as other writing pursuits, including a novel and collection of short stories.