The Merry Month of May in the Italian Language

Apr 27, 2018

Flowers balcony May blog



"Aprile con il fiore, maggio con il colore," Italians say. April with its flower, May with its color. One of my favorite months anywhere, May is a particularly special time in Italy. As an old proverb goes, “Di maggio s’innamorano anche le civette.” (In May even the owls fall in love.)

The month’s name derives from the Roman goddess Maia (dalla dea romana Maia), mother of Mercury, but in Christian culture (nella cultura cristiana) maggio is dedicated to the Madonna, the mother of Jesus. May in Italy also is known as il mese delle rose e delle spose (the month of the roses and the brides). Le rose (roses) blossom during May, a popular time for le nozze (weddings).

May starts with il Primo Maggio (the first of May) and la festa del lavoro (the equivalent of America’s Labor Day) and includes a host of celebrations, including la festa della mamma (Mother’s Day). But Italians never stop keeping an eye on the weather (il tempo) during this unpredictable month.

On May 16, the feast of Sant’Ubaldo, they warn, “Per Sant’Ubaldo, guardati dal freddo e non dal caldo.” (For St. Ubaldo, watch out for the cold and not the heat.)  On May 22, the feast of Santa Rita, they delight, “Per Santa Rita, ogni rosa è fiorita." (For St. Rita, every rose is blossoming.)  On May 26, they observe,“Se piove per San Filippo, il povero non ha bisogno del ricco.” (If it rains for St. Philip, the poor won’t need the rich.)  Yet another weather prediction: Quello che fa maggio, fa settembre. (What May does, September does.) 

In this merry month, children sing a traditional filastrocca (nursery rhyme):

L'inverno se n'è andato, (Winter has gone away)

l'Aprile non c'è più; (April is no more)

è ritornato Maggio (May has returned)

al canto del cucù (to the singing of the cuckoo).

Cu-cù, cu-cù! 

May inspired one of my blog followers to post this sweet tribute to May:

A maggio tutte le rose son sbocciate (In May all the roses blossom)

e le strade si riempion di risate (and the streets are filled with laughter).

I fanciulli all'aria aperta giocano (The children play in the open air)

mentre i papà e le mamme si riposano (while the fathers and mothers rest).

A maggio i giovani aprono il loro cuore (In May the young open their hearts)

e nell'aria si respira tanto amore (and in the air you breathe so much love).

Guarda in alto, alza gli occhi al cielo  (Look up, lift your eyes to the sky).

Di notte è pieno di stelle mentre di mattina il sole risplende.

(At night it is full of stars while in the morning the sun shines).

Words and Expressions

Maggiolata –- May song

Maggiolino -– May bug, beetle

Maggiostrino -– May or straw hat (archaic)

L’inverno a metà maggio riprende breve ingaggio –- Winter briefly takes up the fight again in mid-May

Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.

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