An early form of pole dancing may well lead to a hangover!
When: April 30th & May 1st every year.
The earliest May Day festivities started long, long ago with the Festival of Floralia in Roman times, and the raucous Germanic / Scandinavian Walpurgis Night or Celtic Beltane celebrations the night before (hence the hangover!).
During the night preceding May Day, as with Samhain (or Halloween), the boundary between the living and the dead is supposedly weak allowing the spirits to roam. Traditionally bonfires are built to keep these harmful spirits away. The next day the return of light and the sun is celebrated on May Day marking the start of warmer days – a cause for celebration if ever there was one!
May day traditions include putting daisy chains around children’s necks to protect them from mischievous sprites, and leaving offerings of food out for the Fairies. In past times, the boys and men would get up early on May Day to gather baskets of flowers and sometimes sweets for all the girls and women of the village.
The Celts added the maypole as a form of tree worship. Tall poles decorated with flowers and ribbons are still erected on English village greens, and pairs of boys and girls hold the ribbons as they dance and weave in and around each other until the ribbons are woven tightly around the pole. The maypole’s flower crown (apparently representing sexual organs) is meant to channel the Earth’s energy through the top, bringing fertility to all who dance around it.
When is May Day?
For our ancestors, days began at nightfall rather than midnight, so May Day actually begins on the evening of the last day of April with the bonfire festivals of Beltane (or Walpurgis night). Originally this was celebrated at the height of the month of Taurus (around May 4th or 5th), but now it is mostly celebrated on April 30th and May 1st. Other traditions say Beltane should be held on the first Full Moon of May.
May Day Food & Drink
Traditional foods for Beltane came from the dairy – butter, milk, cheese and eggs were all eaten on this day. Oatcakes, May Cakes, and bannocks were also eaten, scored with the lines of the Bel-fires (a grid with nine blocks). Sometimes a charm was hidden inside a May cake and distributed amongst the men. Whoever had the cake with the charm was crowned with a wreath of green leaves and declared the Jack O’ the Green. Drink Honeyed mead. See also Walpurgis Night Food & Drink.
For a firey start to the May Day celebrations on 30th April, head for Germany, Estonia, Finland or Sweden for Walpurgis night, or to Edinburgh in Scotland for the Beltane Fire Festival (see the official Beltane Fire Society website for more information).