If you’re one of my Minneapolis readers, you have probably at least once attended the Powderhorn Mayday Parade and festival put on for 45 years by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater on the first Sunday in May. My family has attended most years since sometime in the late 1990s; I’ve been in the parade with my kids twice. Everything in the parade is human-powered, and the puppets and costumes were overwhelmingly made by participants out of materials like papier-mache, under the guidance of teaching artists hired by Heart of the Beast.
After the parade is the pageant. I used to go to the pageant, but got out of the habit when my kids were young and squirrely. The time lag between parade and festival is substantial, especially if you’re watching near the northern end of the parade (which we always did because it’s so much less crowded the further north you go) and we liked bringing chairs to sit on, which we then had to either return to the car (always parked miles away) or carry to the park (ugh) and we liked the parade better than the pageant anyway. The pageant is a performance done at Powderhorn Park that finishes with a flotilla of boats bringing a giant puppet of the sun across the lake.
Once the sun puppet arrives, it’s raised up, along with a giant Mayday pole that’s also a tree of life, and the audience sings “You Are My Sunshine.”
One of the things about Mayday that nearly everyone who goes agrees on is that it’s clearly magic. The weather for the parade is not always great. I’ve watched it in both rain and snow. (I’ve also bailed a few times because the weather was so miserable.) But when they row the sun across the lake, no matter how bad the weather was earlier, the sun comes out. It’s uncanny.
The Mayday Parade and Festival is enough of an iconic Minneapolis event that you can make reference to rowing the sun across the lake, and expect people to understand what you’re talking about.
Last year, Heart of the Beast announced that they were taking a year off. So there wouldn’t have been a parade this year even without a pandemic. It may possibly return next year.
Back in 2017 or 2018 I worked on a sequel to “So Much Cooking,” my story about cooking during a pandemic. I didn’t get very far, and for various reasons I don’t think I’m going to ever return to it, but the bit I wrote included a section about a post-pandemic Mayday Parade, which I’ve decided to share on my blog. Please consider donating to HotB — which was already struggling, and like all arts organizations, has been hit really hard by the pandemic.
Story excerpt is below the cut.