May Day dates back to the druids of the
British Isles and before the birth of Christ. It was an important day every year and great bonfires were lit to welcome back the sun and springtime. It was originally the Celtic festival of Beltane where fertility rites were celebrated. This same festival was celebrated all around Europe, but called different names in different countries. Because it started out as a pagan holiday, it was looked down on and discouraged by the Christians.
May 1 was seen as the first day of summer by pre-Christian European cultures, hence, the summer solstice that occurs on Jun 21 is called midsummer. It was a great time of celebration. People would drive their cattle through the fires to purify them before taking them to their summer pastures, couples would walk through the smoke to cleanse themselves and bring them good luck. Others would dance around the fire. It was a time of revelry and merriment. New life was springing forth again after the long, gray winter.
In the middle ages every English village had a Maypole. This would be cut and brought in from the woods, decorated with ribbons and flowers and accompanied by rejoicing and merrymaking. In some larger towns like
, Maypoles became permanent structures. For a short time in 1644, the Puritans stopped this tradition. It was evil to celebrate fertility and they tried to discourage the tradition. London
When the Romans came to occupy Briton it became a feast day dedicated to the goddess of flowers, Flora. It was still a day to observe fertility rights, but gradually became a day of joy and merriment for the children.
Many pagan celebrations were abandoned or Christianized during the process of conversion in
Europe. A more secular version of May Day continues to be observed in Europe and . In this form, May Day may be best known for its tradition of dancing the maypole dance and crowning the Queen of May, although the original version is still celebrated by many today to varying degrees. America
In Catholic tradition, May was observed as a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this connection children participated in works of art, school skits, and so forth, Mary's head would be adorned with flowers in a May crowning. This faded in the late 20th century as did the giving of “May baskets,” small baskets of sweets and/or flowers, usually left anonymously on a neighbors’ doorstep. It was said that if you got caught, you received a kiss.
May Day (May 1st) is celebrated in many places around the world. The traditions and stories surrounding May Day vary from place to place. There is, however, one thing that is similar in most celebrations – the use of flowers!
So plant some flowers or make a gift basket for a neighbor. However you celebrate, spend a few minutes to look around and enjoy the beauty all around us. It is such a joy to see new life springing forth after the long, dark days of winter.