Maj May is the second month whose name does not have a Slavonic origin (March being the other one).
The name comes from the Latin name Maius and was named after the Greek Goddess Maia. It’s the time when ogrody gardens, sady orchards, parki parks, pola fields and łąki meadows are full of blooming drzewa trees, krzewy shrubs and kwiaty flowers. The spring has truly arrived and the landscape is changing fast, the days are getting long and warm. The air is filled with the heady scent of konwalie lily-of-the-valley, bez lilac, tulipany tulips, narcyzy daffodils and jaśmin jasmine; meadows are intensely yellow with the flowers of mniszek lekarski the common dandelion. Kwitnące kasztany flowering horse chestnut trees are a sign that matura (UK equivalent of ) A level exams have arrived.
But while spring is in full swing, the middle of May is often cold with even a strong possibility of frost. Between the 12th and 15th May the weather systems over Central Europe change and cold Artic air is pulled down threatening frost and damage to crops, gardens and orchards. Traditionally this period is known as Zimni Ogrodnicy Ice Gardeners and Zimna Zośka Ice Sophie. Ice Saints, Święty Bonifacy St Boniface, Święty Pankracy St Pancras, Święty Serwacy St Servatius and Święta Zofia St Sophie are so named because their feast days fall on May 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th and not because they were gardeners.
The beginning of May is marked by two public holidays which often merge into a longer break.
The 1st May is Labour Day and the 3rd May is Constitution Day.
Konstytucja Trzeciego Maja The Constitution of 3 May, 1791 is Europe’s first modern codified national constitution, as well as the second oldest national constitution in the world.
By the end of the 17th century, the magnates of the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth were in almost total control of the state and steering the country into an increasingly more perilous political situation. Corrupt and bribed by the neighbouring powers of Imperial Russia, Prussia and the Austria-Hungarian Empire, together with some sections of poorer gentry, they were the main obstacles to the major reforms the country badly needed. The May 3rd Constitution was the response to that political situation and an attempt to push reforms. The constitution was widely praised throughout Europe and beyond. It attracted positive comments from Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine.
The importance of the Constitution was such that on May 5th 1791, ‘May the 3rd Constitution Day’ was declared a public holiday.
It survived 14 months before the opponents organised in Konfederacja Targowicka Targowica Confederation formally asked the neighbouring empires for military intervention. Four years later, in 1795, Poland ceased to exist on the map of Europe, its territory annexed by its powerful neighbours, in the process known as The Partitions. Poland would not regain its full independence until the autumn of 1918.
Under the Partitions, the holiday was banned but it returned under the II Rzeczpospolita the Second Republic in 1919. It was banned again during the Nazi German and Soviet Russian occupation during the Second World War. After the war, under the Communist regime, the ban remained. The regime established 1st May as a public holiday instead. However, until 1989, May 3rd remained a popular day for anti-communist protests (you can read more here.) In April 1990, after the fall of communism, May 3rd was once again restored as a public holiday.
In 2004 , May 2nd was declared the National Flag Day. Under the communist regime it was the day when national flags were taken down in order to remove any sign of patriotic emblems in anticipation of the 3rd May.
Polish tutor tips:
Watch a short film here explaining the story of the May 3rd Constitution through the painting by Jan Matejko shown in the text.
You can learn more about Jan Matejko and his other famous paintings here.