I love the month of May for so many reasons not the least of which is that it brings my name day, the Feast of St. Sofia (Św. Zofia, in Polish), on May 15.
When I woke up on that day my mother would sing out to me " Bo to dzisiaj imieniny!" ( "It's your name day!") In Poland, the most important day of the year for an individual was not their birth day but their name day, their imieniny, the feast day of the saint whose name one received in baptism. I was baptized Zofia. When I started first grade in America, the nuns, perhaps to ease me into peer group acceptance, Anglicized my name and called me Sophie. Sophie it stayed. To my mother and father I was always Zosia, Zosiu or Zośka, the diminutive, affectionate forms of Zofia.
Chances are you may never have heard much of St. Sofia, a martyr of Rome, whose daughters were Faith, Hope and Charity. It's a hugely popular name in Poland but not so much here in the United States. The only Zosia I knew when I was growing up were middle-aged and grandmother types, Polish women who had immigrated to America or were daughters of the earlier wave of Polish immigrants. I didn't know a single Sophie who was roughly my age. I felt a bit of an oddball but what can you do.
In Poland it was, and still is, customary to offer the celebrant on their name day a bouquet of flowers, or a bottle of wine or a food gift but I didn't get any presents. My mother sang me the little ditty, and quoted me a Polish proverb: "Św. Zofia, kłosy rozwija." ("On St. Sophie, the ears of grain open.") At this time of year in Poland, the fields of wheat or oats or rye were unfurling, ripening.
And then she'd announce it was safe to plant the vegetable garden. Year after year, this was her rule. She would wait until after my name day to begin burying the cucumber and beet seeds in the newly tilled ground. How did she know this? Because she was still planting on the old Polish beliefs associated with another proverb: "Pankracy, Serwacy, Bonifacy to grożni na ogrody chłopacy." ("Pancras, Servatius and Boniface, are dangerous for the peasant's garden.") The saints that are celebrated just before mine were Pancras(May 12), Servatius(May 13) and Boniface(May 14). They were known as the winter saints or ice saints who could still send a blast of cold wintery air at a time when everything was blossoming and was still tender growth.
I think of this because today is my name day but also because on the way home from church yesterday, what had started as a cool but sunny morning turned for the worse and with torrential rain and chunks of hail. I guess Bonifacy had to have his say.
Looking back, I realize I did receive gifts from my mother on my Name Day. (1) I hear her voice still, singing to me each name day (2) I have my very own proverb and (3) I'm in possession of a great gardening tip, a yardstick I use to measure when it's time to plant my own garden.
For me, the month of May is the tolling of the church bell, calling, reminding everyone, that May is the month of Mary, come to evening devotion.
May is purple with lilacs and green with the unfurling of the leaves on the chestnut trees.
May is the white of a first holy communion dress, the starched cloth at the communion rail, the lace of a Sodality veil.
May is circles, processing three times around the church, the circlet of flowers, the crown of the Queen of Poland, the swirls of incense.
May is voices, young and the old, some in tune, some not so much, singing hymns that have been sung by generations before us.
May is flowered kerchiefs framing faces with deep grooves and filmy eyes, arthritic fingers moving on black rosary beads. Zdrowaś Maryjo, łaski pełna...Hail Mary, full of grace...
May is chanting the Litany in Polish, a sound that gradually steals the color from the stained glass windows and leaves the gray of dusk; Święta Maryjo, módl się za nami...Holy Mary, pray for us...
May is the coolness of the spring air when we emerge from church, the women glad for the sweaters on their shoulders, as everyone slowly turns towards home, the birds twittering.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.