It’s funny how sometimes your past sneaks up and ties together several separate pieces of your life; for me, it’s folklore and museums. Many, many years ago I conducted folklore research for an advanced degree in Northwestern Greece.* The summer before my year abroad was spent in intensive Greek language classes in Athens and traveling around the country. During the year, I also was able to travel more, though I’ve hardly seen all of the country. I took lots of pictures, well slides, stepping away from my research topic to observe and document various forms of traditional culture; folklore research was my goal.
*I was fortunate to have a Fulbright Dissertation Fellowship to support my research year in Greece.
Fast forward to a more recent time and work in museums. Involvement with Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) and twelve years of travel to Korea to serve on the editorial board of the International Journal of Intangible Heritage (ijih.org) followed. Thanks to colleagues in Korea, a six-week long sojourn teaching museum studies at Hanyang University also followed.* I took lots of pictures, digital this time. My camera was aimed at the amazing variety and wealth of Korean museums, some of which have made it to the pages of this blog.
*I was again fortunate to have with support of a Fulbright Senior Specialist Fellowship.
A recent newsletter of Association of Critical Heritage Studies (ACH) (https://www.criticalheritagestudies.org/welcome) featured a short article about the custom of May wreaths in Greece. I remembered how this very tangible expression of ICH caught my eye in a number of locations almost every time I rambled around Greece. I observed one of the many defining elements of traditional culture and how it persists over time, while often changing shape and use.
According to the ACH newsletter, the May wreath is a symbol of protection and luck. People go out to the fields on May 1st to find wild flowers and branches to make a wreath to decorate the door of their houses. It stays in place til Baptist’s Day (June 24th) which is traditionally celebrated with bonfires reminiscent of Midsummer’s pagan rituals. At this time, it has been thought that unmarried girls will learn who will be their future husbands.
Simply stated …Tangible heritage, the Greek May wreath, is the physical manifestation of Intangible Heritage, a belief or custom.