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May Day and Beltane

Celebrate May Day by giving flowers or baskets of flowers to friends and neighbors.

Throughout history, humankind has celebrated the transition from season to season. The festival of May Day takes place on May 1 at the halfway point between the beginning of spring and the start of summer and originated in ancient times as a celebration of fertility, life, sexuality, and nature’s renewal. Still observed by many people today, May Day has many colorful and unique customs associated with it and is intimately bound to the Gaelic and pagan fire festival of Beltane. Both celebratory rites take place on the same day and are believed to have originated from the ancient Roman feast of Floralia, which honored Flora, the goddess of spring and flowers, as she returned to the earth to bring the fields back to life with her touch.

Traditionally, May Day celebrations began on April 30, when men and women spent the whole night in the woods where they would dance and play games. On the morning of May 1, they would emerge carrying freshly budded green boughs and flowers that were in bloom. A tree was felled and resurrected as the May Pole around which young people would twine ribbons in the hope of becoming entwined with a new love. Houses were decorated with freshly cut foliage to attract the blessings of earth spirits that were said to walk the land on the first of May. A May King and May Queen were chosen to represent fertility gods and goddesses. Beltane, while also a festival of fertility and sensuality, remains primarily a festival of fire. The Beltane bonfire fire not only blesses the coming season, but also invites luck into one’s life. Jumping over a Beltane fire, walking between two fires, or burning sacred wood and dried herbs in a fire guarantees an auspicious season. Often, people would put out their fires and rekindle their hearth using a flame taken from the bonfire.

Both May Day and Beltane can be observed to celebrate the return of passion and vitality that we feel as the weather grows warmer and the world grows greener. You can celebrate these festivals by decorating your home with flowers, blessing your garden, or filling baskets with fresh produce and giving them to loved ones. Each festival represents a wonderful opportunity to mark the end of winter’s darkness and ruminate on what the light-filled days of the coming months may bring.

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