Celebrate the gorgeous month of May! The sun is warming, the birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and the garden is growing. Find out what May has to offer—from holidays to history to gardening advice. Keep reading below!
The month of May
“May” is likely named for the Roman goddess Maia, who oversaw the growth of plants. Alternatively, the name might have come from the Latin maiores, “elders.”
• May 5 is Cinco de Mayo (“The Fifth of May”). This day celebrates the victory of the Mexican army over the French army at The Battle of Puebla in 1862.
• May 9 is Mother’s Day. Do you have something planned to show appreciation for your mother? Learn about the history of Mother’s Day.
• May 16 is Armed Forces Day, which honors those who serve in all branches of the United States military.
• May 22 is National Maritime Day. Created in commemoration of the first trans-oceanic voyage via steamboat (completed by the U.S.S. Savannah in 1819), this holiday recognizes the efforts of the U.S. merchant marine during both war and peace.
• May 24 is Victoria Day in Canada. This holiday celebrates the birthday of Queen Victoria, who was born on May 24, 1819. The holiday is observed on the penultimate Monday in May.
• May 31 is Memorial Day, a poignant reminder of the tenacity of life. It’s tradition to raise the flag on this day; know how to fly your American flag properly.
”Just for fun” days
• May 4–11 is Root Canal Awareness Week.
• May 8 is No Socks Day.
• May 14 is Dance Like a Chicken Day.
• May 28 is Slugs Return from Capistrano Day.
May’s full moon, the flower moon, occurs Wednesday, May 26. It reaches peak illumination at 7:14 a.m. (EDT) that morning, so for the best view of this full moon, step outside on the night of Tuesday, May 25, and look for that big, bright, shining lunar disk! Two more interesting thing’s about this month’s full moon: it will be a supermoon and will coincide with a total lunar eclipse (visible in some parts of North America)!
• Last quarter: May 3, 3:50 p.m. (EDT)
• New moon: May 11, 3:00 p.m. (EDT)
• First quarter: May 19, 3:13 p.m. (EDT)
• Full moon: May 26, 7:14 a.m. (EDT)
May birth symbols
May’s birth flowers are the hawthorn and the Lily of the Valley. The hawthorn means hope, while the Lily of the Valley symbolizes sweetness or the return of happiness.
May’s birthstone is the emerald.
A few fun facts about emeralds:
• The emerald is a green type of beryl. Its color ranges from light to rich green; the more saturated hues are more valuable, especially if pure- or blue-green.
• Natural emeralds are flawed, with fractures or other materials mixed in, called inclusions, which may appear as needles, columns, or cubes of minerals or bubbles of gas or liquid. Sometimes oil or resin is added to fill fractures and improve appearance.
• Some of the best emeralds come from South American mines, although perhaps the oldest known came from Egypt. The emerald was a favorite gem of Cleopatra.
• The emerald symbolizes rebirth and fertility and was thought to grant foresight, cure various diseases, soothe nerves, improve memory, and ensure loyalty.
This month in history
May 23: What’s Your Name?
On this day in 1707, Swedish botanist and naturalist Carl Linnaeus was born. One of his major achievements was the formal introduction of a system of classifying and naming organisms according to genus and species, called binomial nomenclature. The method uses Latin words (a language commonly used by scholars in his day). For example, humans are classified as Homo sapiens. Homo, meaning “man,” is the genus and sapiens, meaning “wise,” is the species. Several species may exist within one genus, but each species only has one scientific name. Scientists today use a modified version of Linnaeus’s system. Because the same naming convention is used throughout the world, it eliminates much confusion when discussing organisms.
Did You Know?
Carl Linnaeus originated the use of 0 (the symbol for Mars) to mean male and 1 (the symbol for Venus) to mean female.
May 26: Terrifying Twisters
On this day in 1917, tornadoes struck central Illinois, killing 101 people. Originally thought to be just one tornado that wreaked havoc along a 293-mile-long path, the outbreak was later determined to be four to eight tornadoes. One of them lasted four hours and followed a track 155 miles long (including the distance traveled while in the air). Mattoon and Charleston were especially hard hit by an F4 tornado (original Fujita scale). In Mattoon, almost 500 houses were destroyed.
According to newspaper reports, a straw was driven 1/2” deep into a tree, a flagpole with a flag was blown four blocks and planted upright in the ground, and books and other items were carried 50 to 70 miles away.
According to astronomers, what is a Julian day?
Answer: The term “Julian day” can be confusing because it has several meanings, including being a date on the Julian calendar. In astronomy, however, the Julian day (or Julian day number) is the number of days that have passed since the start of a Julian period. The Julian period is a year-numbering system developed by 16th-century French astronomer Joseph Justus Scaliger. He determined that the current Julian period began on January 1, 4713 B.C. of the Julian calendar; every 7,980 years, the count of years restarts.
For dating and comparing the timing of astronomical events and observations, John Herschel and other astronomers created a day-numbering system based on Scaliger’s Julian period. There are no months in a Julian day system; it simply counts the days, and fractions of days in decimals, since the period began. Julian day 0 occurred on January 1, 4713 B.C. The Julian day starts at noon Universal Time (Greenwich Mean Time) so that nighttime astronomical events occur on one Julian day.
A Julian date includes the fraction of a Julian day. For example, on May 1, 2016 (Gregorian calendar date), at midnight (the start of the day on a common calendar) the Julian day number was 2457509, and the Julian date was 2457509.5. On May 1, 2016, at noon, the Julian day number changed to 2457510 and the Julian date to 2457510.0.
May’s zodiac signs include the Taurus (April 21 to May 20) and the Gemini (May 21 to June 20).
May folklore and fun
A dry May and a leaking June
Make the farmer whistle a merry tune.
A snowstorm in May
Is worth a wagonload of hay.
Among the changing months, May stands confessed
The sweetest, and in fairest colors dressed! –James Thomson, Scottish poet (1700–48)