May Teacher Resource Guide

May is a late Spring month in the northern hemisphere when the fields are aglow with flowers, the skies are blue, and the temperatures are warm without summer heat - a month that has inspired poets and has been enjoyed by nearly everyone throughout history. Everything is still fresh and new, the birds are nesting, and gardens are just sprouting with the promise of tasty vegetables soon to come.

Because of the arrangement of the calendar, no other month of the year starts on the same day as May in a specific year. That means, for example, if May starts on Wednesday, no other month in that year will start on Wednesday. There is only one other month in the year with this feature - the immediately following month, June. This was not a deliberate design decision when the calendar was made - it is just an interesting accident that came from using a seven-day week in a 365-day year.

One of the stand-out holidays of May in the United States, Mother's Day, has an interesting origin and some special facts about it as well. The holiday started in 1908 in Philadelphia and Grafton, West Virginia, thanks to Anna Marie Jarvis and the store owner who financed her, John Wanamaker. The day originated on the second Sunday in May because this is when Anna Jarvis held memorial services for her mother Ann Jarvis at the local church. In a way, Mother's Day is an ongoing, national commemoration of Ann Jarvis and her daughter's love for her. Interestingly, Anna Jarvis came to hate the holiday she had founded, because she believed it had become nothing but a huge sales promotion for stores and had lost all meaning as a family ritual.

The first of May was the start of the Irish pagan summer, and is still celebrated by some people in Ireland and elsewhere in the world. The date is chosen not on the basis of any weather observations, but because the ritual was supposed to take place at the full moon which was exactly halfway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. This is actually about a week into May, but May 1st is a more convenient date to remember, so it is used for this celebration, known as "Beltane." The main Beltane festival was originally held on a hill whose name translates as "the navel of Ireland," and in Scotland, the festival was marked by a cake being made and one piece being blackened with charcoal. Everyone was blindfolded and took a piece, and whoever took the black piece had to leap over a small fire three times to honor the gods and ask for a good harvest later in the year.

In the natural world, May witnesses the return of Canada Geese to the United States and Canada from the south, where they have spent the winter resting and eating in warmer regions. Canada Geese make the return to the north faster than their journey to the south, and to help them make this long, tiring flight, their thyroid glands release extra chemicals during their migration. Having more thyroid chemicals in their bodies makes the metabolism of the geese work faster, giving them more energy, and raises body temperature, too - keeping them warmer on the long, windy journey. This extra thyroid activity stops when they reach the places they are going, since the thyroid chemicals would make the geese sick if they were over-produced for more than a few weeks.

Notable May Holidays, Events, and Celebrations

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May Teacher Guide | All About May | Lesson Ideas