The May 1st or May Day has traditionally been a seasonal day of significance. Many folklore customs originated from the Dark Ages, when the ancient Celts divided their year by four major festivals. Beltane or ‘the fire of Bel’, had particular significance to the Celts. The Gaelic May Day festival marked a halfway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. May Day has been associated with fun, revelry and fertility. The first day of summer was celebrated with bonfires to welcome in the new season and thought to lend life to the spring and summer sun. The smoke and ashes were believed to have protective powers. People and cattle would walk around the fire or leap over the flames for good luck. May Day brought together both customs from the Floralia and Beltane festivals.
On the first day of May, English villagers awoke at daybreak to roam the countryside gathering blossoming flowers and branches. A towering maypole was set up on the village green. This pole, usually made of the trunk of a tall birch tree, was decorated with bright field flowers. The villagers then danced and sang around the maypole, accompanied by a piper. Usually the Morris dance was performed by dancers wearing bells on their colorful costumes. Often the fairest maiden of the village was chosen queen of the May. Sometimes a May king was also chosen. These two led the village dancers and ruled over the festivities. In Elizabethan times, the king and queen were called Robin Hood and Maid Marian.
Other things to do on May Day include getting up before dawn and going outside to wash your face in the May Day dew. According to folklore this keeps the complexion beautiful!
‘Bringing in the May’ involves getting up very early, gathering flowers, making them into garlands and then giving them to your friends. The folklore is that it is a time to make up a “May basket” of flowers to take to someone who needs cheering up.
1st May 1707, was the day the Act of Union came into effect, joining England and Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.
Are you participating in any May Day traditions? How are you embracing the seasonal changes on May?