If you are wakened the last night of April in the Umbrian countryside by the sounds of footsteps on the drive, low laughter, and the crash of flowerpots being tripped over in the dark, don’t bar your door and hide your valuables. You are probably not about to be burglarized, but serenaded!
The tradition of Cantamaggio (sing May in) traces its roots back to pagan times, when the change of seasons (especially the end of the long winter and arrival of spring) was celebrated by song and drink. Indeed, it still is, as groups of local maggiaioli (lit. “men of May”) make their way from farmhouse to farmhouse, singing folk songs and playing simple contadino (peasant) instruments: accordion, guitar, wooden flute, and percussion instruments including the tambourine and triangle.
The lyrics of these songs ostensibly speak of nature and the seasons, but veil lighthearted double entendres and bawdy wordplays… in fact, as the serenade ends the singers invite their audience, with much raucous laughter, to return to bed and “seed May”.
But before you do, pass around wine and send the musicians off with fresh eggs and salame for their breakfast when the night’s festivities are completed and May has been “sung in”.