Tag Archives: May Day

Bringing in the May

Image from our Fireweed 2021 wall calendar featuring artwork by Anahata Joy. Click for more info.

Many May Day customs involve flowers and green branches. Flowers are woven into wreaths to exchange as gifts between lovers or to hang on doors as decoration. Or flowers are placed in baskets and left on doorsteps for the recipients to find when they arise in the morning.

In Ireland, Beltane is the only safe day for wearing Irish lilacs. In France, the flower of May Day is the lily of the valley. Any wish made while wearing it comes true. The marsh-marigold or kingcup is called the herb of Beltane and is strewn against evil in the Isle of Man. Rosemary is another Beltane herb.

In England, there was a tradition of carrying about May garlands. At Horncastle in Lincolnshire, young boys carried May gads: peeled willow wands were wreathed with cowslips. In other parts of England, the garlands are small wooden crosses covered with flowers and greenery. But the hoop-garland is the most common: made from a framework of intersecting hoops so that the final effect is of a flower-covered globe. Sometimes a May Doll (sometimes said to represent Flora) is placed within or upon it. In Italy, the Bride of May carries the maggio, a green branch garlanded with ribbons, fresh fruits and lemons.

Sometimes flowers were given as messages: plum for the glum, elder for the surly, thorns for the prickly, and pear for the popular. In Lancashire, the flowers rhymed with their qualities. Any kind of thorn meant scorn (except for whitethorn or May), while holly was folly, briar for liars, rowan for affection and a plum in bloom rhymed with “married soon.” According to Porter, in Cambridgeshire, boys gave the popular girls sloe blossoms, while “the girl of loose manners had a blackthorn planted by hers’ the slattern had an elder tree planted by hers; and the scold had a bunch of nettles tied to the latch of her cottage door.” According to Hole, lime (which rhymes with prime) was a compliment and so was pear which rhymed with fair. The rowan (or quicken) since it rhymes with chicken was a sign of affection. But briar, holly and plum stood for liar, folly and glum while the alder (pronounced “owler” in some districts) rhymed with “scowler.” Other plants you did not want to receive included nettles, thistles, sloes, crab-tree branches and elders. Obviously there are some contradictions in this list, and some unkindness as well.

I find it interesting that the three plants most often associated with May Day: Sweet Woodruff, Lily of the Valley, and Hawthorn, all are connected in folklore with the heart. Summer is the time when Chinese medicine places the emphasis on strengthening the heart and the circulatory system. It also seems appropriate for the time of the year when we are focused on relationships and coupling.

References:
Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Hole, Christina, A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Granada Publishing 1976
Hutton, Ronald, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press 1997
Porter, Enid, Cambridgeshire Customs & Folklore, 1969, quoted in Hutton


Waverly FitzgeraldWaverly Fitzgerald was a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shared her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. Waverly passed away in December 2019 and is remembered for being kind, talented, and generous—especially in the aid she provided to many writers, both aspiring and well-established, with her wellspring of knowledge.

 

 


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Floralia: May Day’s Origins

New for 2017 — Image from our Bloom 2017 wall calendar featuring photographs by Ron van Dongen. Click image for more info.

Having just named my puppy Flora, I’m more inclined than usual to celebrate Floralia, the Roman holiday that’s most likely the origin of May Day, the flowery holiday that initiates the summer season.

The festival honored Flora, the Sabine goddess who represented the reproductive abundance of nature, the sexual aspects of plants, and the attractiveness of flowers. The celebrations, which began on April 28 and went on for six days and nights, included games, pantomimes, plays, and stripteases. According to Suetonius in CE 68, the entertainment included a tightrope-walking elephant. Continue reading

May Eve, May Day: The Merry Month of May

Awaken Your Dreams greeting card featuring artwork by Kinuko Y. Craft. See the series and sampler packs on our website.

Awaken Your Dreams greeting card featuring artwork by Kinuko Y. Craft. See the series and sampler packs on our website.

One of the great seasonal holidays approaches: May Eve, which ushers in the merry month of May.

It is known by various names in various cultures and countries, such as Walpurgisnacht in Germany and Beltane in Ireland. This turning point of the year, halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, has long been a time for gathering around bonfires and frolicking in the green wood. Like Halloween, its sister holiday on the opposite side of the wheel of the year, there’s a sense that the veil between the worlds is thin. But on May Day, rather than ghosts, it’s the fairies you have to worry about. The Queen of the Fairies rides out on a snow-white horse, looking for mortals to take back to Fairyland with her for seven years. It is said that if you sit beneath a tree on May Eve, you might see her ride by or hear the bells of her horse as she passes. But hide your face, or she might choose you! Continue reading

May Day – Something for Everyone to celebrate!

2015 Posters for Peace and Justice wall calendar

Published in the 2015 Posters for Peace and Justice wall calendar.
In 2012 dozens of groups around the country decided to change that. They coordinated a general strike to take place on May Day that year, encouraging people to avoid school and work and to take part in Occupy-inspired protests against economic inequality.
Hugh D’Andrade contributed to the movement with this poster, inspired by a nineteenth-century May Day broadside by Walter Crane. He released the poster online, under a Creative Commons license, and encouraged people to download it and use it as they saw fit. Its reach spread far and wide on blogs, news sites, and community boards.

May 1st, often called May Day, just might have more holidays than any other day of the year. It’s a celebration of Spring. It’s a day of political protests. It’s a neopagan festival, a saint’s feast day, and a day for organized labor. In many countries, it is a national holiday. Continue reading