Happy May Day Birthday to my darling middle daughter, Buttercup!
I had heard all my life that “May babies were good babies” (they weren’t fussy and were healthy) and that babies born on Beltane were a particular blessing for their parents … and particularly blessed individuals.
This belief may have come to America with the Irish, or at least with some of the Irish. People living in Northern Ireland insisted a baby born on May Day was a lucky one, and May babies were healthy ones. Some of the most powerful Irish folk heroes, or demigods, were said to have been born on May first. In contrast, some Irish in the southern part of the Emerald Isle believe the baby born on Beltane would be able to see Fairy Folk, but would have a shorter life span because of it. This may be the influence of English contact, since there are parts of England where all May-born infants were considered puny, and unlikely to live. Then again, in some parts of England people swore a baby born in May would be good-looking and good-natured.
Clearly the people of the British Isles need to get their shit together, vis-à-vis folklore!
On the whole, folklore regarding birth month was frustratingly hard to pin down. The Pennsylvania Dutch (German Protestants who immigrated to Pennsylvania and then into Ohio, as did my husband’s family) said people born in May were handsome and charming, but full of pride, but most other regional variations in America focused more on the day or the week or day of the month it was lucky or unlucky to be born. The French-Canadians do warn that November is a not a good month to have a baby in; it turns out more serial killers are born that month than any other and November-born people are more pessimistic than average. Additionally, adults born in that month have an increased risk for cardiovascular and neurological diseases. Men, though not women, born in November are much more likely to get divorced as well … at least in Germany. (My Goddaughter is born in November, and as far as I can tell is a lovely person. I’ll keep an eye on her tho.)
Astrologers, of course, are adamant about the pleasantries of a baby born in May, or at least the first three weeks of May. Taurus babies are supposedly a pure delight in the cradle.
One of the strangest tales of a May Day Baby comes from the legends of King Arthur, but it is not one that people mention often because it shines a very bad light on the Once and Future King. Merlin warned Arthur that Mordred, the man who would destroy the king and Camelot, had been born on the recent May Day. Thinking to cheat fate, Arthur demanded that the nobles send him any of their males children born on May first. He then sent the baby boys off in a ship, possibly untended, so they could be killed without his having to do the nasty deed with his own hands. The ship was caught in a gale, however, and smashed on the rocks near a castle. All the babies drowned except Mordred, who floated to shore on a bit of the wreckage, where he was found and raised as a foster son by a kindly man.
I will never think well of King Arthur again, if I’m honest.
The old wives’ tale that May babies are awesome was certainly true in Buttercup’s case, because she was Disney-like in her beauty and sweet temper.
All Buttercup did was eat, sleep, poo, and coo. People were literally star-struck when she smiled at them. Little old ladies flocked to me in the grocery store or parks to exclaim over her dimples, her sea-colored eyes, her precious wee rosebud mouth, and her chubby limbs. When she was a few months old her hair started to curl, and she became life-threateningly adorable.
My mom and I were nearly panicked by her perfection, due of the long-standing belief in Eastern Kentucky that God called angelic children back to him early, because they were too good for this world. Did I know rationally that this was a superstition based merely on bias effect and poppycock, as well as unbecoming of God? Yes, but that didn’t stop the quaking of my hillbilly heart.
Fortunately, my dearest Buttercup, although retaining her charms, became head-strong and independent as a toddler, and put a new level of terror in the Terrible Twos. To this very day she is much like the month of May – gorgeous in vista and filled mostly with enjoyable sunshiny days and some occasional rain showers, but also containing the risk of a rare thunderstorm that can knock down trees, destroy houses, and make a tornado seem paltry in comparison.
She is worth the rare storms, though. To see her laughing and happy is worth anything. Who doesn’t love the month of May?
It is also interesting to note that old wives and astrologers are onto something, even if it it only a hueristic model to explain observed data. The month you are born DOES matter. It matters for everything from personality, to career, to health, to future family size. Babies born in October live the longest, but are (ironically) also very likely to have systemic respiratory health problems. Babies born in December, January, and February are more at risk for mental illness and insomnia.
Babies born in May have the lowest risk of disease or chronic illness, and thus ARE the healthier babies my grandmother insisted they are.
They are also the largest babies; a good 8 grams heavier than other babies on average. This means that they are probably stronger, and thus better eaters, which probably makes them less fussy and able to sleep better than other newborns. Better weight may mean that they have better neonatal facial symmetry, and therefore are “prettier” babies than the norm. They have a good head start on life from birth, do May babies. Sadly, low risk of disease doesn’t mean NO risk. May babies (like other spring babies) are slightly more likely to develop Multiple Sclerosis and Type I diabetes.
Whether it is the auspicious of seasonal gestation, the movement of the celestial bodies, or sheer good luck, I am grateful beyond the telling for my Beltane Baby. I love you Buttercup, with all my heart.