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A History of the Month of May

Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
See how Aurora throws her fair
Fresh-quilted colours through the air. 
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.

-"Corinna's Going A-Maying," Robert Herrick

The month of May marks the season of springtime and the real beginning of summer. After a long cold winter, nothing is more exciting than the bright and cheery month of May. In ancient times, May was the third month of the Roman calendar. The Roman poet Ovid wrote that the origin of the month's name comes from maiores, Latin for "elders," while the month of June is named for iuniores, or "young people." Whether that is the true origin of the month's name or not, the month of May marks many important events. Throughout the ages in Europe, the first of May was celebrated as "May Day," and the people went "maying" and held their festivities around the Maypole accordingly. On the first Saturday in May the famed American horse race, the Kentucky Derby, is held. The second Sunday in May is Mother's Day. The last Monday in May is always Memorial Day (and on the Sunday before that, the Indianapolis 500 is held).

There are many other historical events of great import that occurred in May:

  • 2 May: In 1994, Nelson Mandela won the presidency of South Africa in the country's first multiracial election.
  • 3 May: In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister of England.
  • 5 May: The Mexican army conquered the occupying French forces in the Batalla de Puebla; this is now commemorated as the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo.
  • 8 May: On "Victory in Europe Day," the military forces of Nazi Germany surrendered, ending Hitler's Third Reich, and victory was proclaimed by the Allied Forces.
  • 10 May: In 1869, America's first transcontinental railroad was completed; both sides of the railroad were joined in northern Utah.
  • 14 May: In 1948, the state of Israel was proclaimed.
  • 16 May: In 1770, Marie Antoinette married Louis XVI of France.
  • 20 May: American actor James Stewart was born in 1908.
  • 23 May: In 1967 Egypt blocked Israel's port of Eilat and closed the Straits of Tiran, a move that would contribute to the outbreak of the Six Day War.
  • 30 May: In 1431 on this day Joan of Arc was burned at the stake as a heretic.

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