May 1st – Aersht Moi Daa
The first of May is by no means an official holiday among the Pennsylvania Dutch, but a number of significant folk-cultural traditions took place on this day. As the midpoint between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice, May first coincided with the visible increase of daylight and the blossoming of the earth. It is therefore small wonder that the day was associated with fertility and the blossoming of youth. A wide range of ritual traditions made use of this dew on the first day of the month, or on three successive mornings starting on the first. The dew was thought to be particularly effective in treating a broad spectrum of skin ailments and concerns, everything from removing blemishes to birthmarks, pimples to warts. Even freckles, which were once considered undesirable, were thought to be “cured” by the dew on May first. Even if you didn’t have any blemishes to speak of, one’s complexion was thought to be improved by an application of the dew, ensuring that a person of courting or marrying age would find an eligible suitor.The typical procedure involved going out alone before the sunrise, gathering the dew on ones hands or on a cloth, and applying the dew to ones skin without being seen. The individual was to return to their home without speaking about it, or the ritual was thought to be for naught. Many times this was done three times on three successive days.Many variations of this ritual have been reported throughout the region, suggesting that one must apply the dew while fasting before breakfast, or in some cases the dew must be applied while wearing no clothing. This latter aspect has led to some embarrassing local narratives of young men and women being spotted, much to their dismay, naked and alone in the backyard in the early morning hours on the first of May. These local cautionary tales concerning the May dew also include accounts of those unfortunate individuals who hurriedly applied an uneven distribution of dew and only managed to remove a portion of their freckles!As a corollary to this tradition, many Pennsylvania Dutch people believed that the dew on May first must not be disturbed in the fields and pastures, or the fertility and productivity would be “stolen” from the crops and livestock. The belief was that jealous neighbors would walk through the fields dragging a rope or scarf to ritually gather the dew and steal the blessings of spring. This resulted in some farmers keeping watch over their fields, and, presumably, this perception was reinforced by the occasional freckled youth looking for a covert place to apply the dew in privacy!