Saturday, May 1, 2010

Merry May Day!

Dear Yin Weaver,

Today is May Day, an ancient pagan holiday that  dates back to well before the birth of Christ.

For the British Druids, this day was the second most important holiday of the year.  It was on this day the festival of Beltane was held, when the new fire was set, lending life to the burgeoning sprinttime sun.  Livestock was driven through the fire to purify them.  Men and women passed through the smoke for good luck. 

The beginning of May was also very popuar with the Romans.  It was devoted to the worship of Flora, the goddess of Flowers.  The Floralia was held from April 28 to May 2.  When the Romans came to the British Isles, the rituals of the Floralia were added into those of the Beltane.  Today's May Day customs are a blend of both. 

The most common tradition that has survived in some fashion or other to modern days is the May Pole.  the May Pole was originally a tree brought into the village to ensure fertility.  It was festooned with wreathes, garlands and ribbons.  Towns often competed with each other for the tallest and most beautiful May Pole.  Dances were performed around the May Pole using the ribbons to guide the dancers through the intricate steps.  You can find lots of examples on YouTube but I thought this dance at Glastonbury looked particularly authentic...someone did their research!  I love the costumes.  Can anyone tell what sort of horn was being blown at the very end?

Merry May Day, everyone!



  1. Coming from a small village in the Czech Republic, we still do build the pole and compete with other villages. Also we have to guard it especially over night, since villages try to steal it from each other and add it to their own.

    Also MAY 1st, is the first day of Love month and every single girl should be kissed under blooming cherry tree, so she is not going to "dry up"for the whole year.

    Also the last night of April, in every village there is a tradition of burning "witches"(meaning winter) in the fire and oficially welcoming Spring.

  2. Jarmila,

    Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful traditions! I'm so glad they are alive and well somewhere in the world.