Sunday, May 02, 2010

A Brief History of May Day

I missed May Day yesterday, so I am making up for it with a short post today! Even though I don't have a Maypole in my backyard (and no one would dance around it with me anyway!) I do like to think that spring is really and truly here at last. The flowers are out, the trees are green, and the sun is warm again. It feels like waking up after winter hibernation!

The origins of May Day date back many centuries. For the Druids in the British Isles, May 1 marked one of their most important holidays of the year--Beltane, which was thought to divide the year in two (the other half ended with Samhain in November). They would set a new fire which was thought to give life to the springtime sun. Cattle were passed through the smoke to purify them for the coming season, and there was dancing and partying galore.

When the Romans came along in Britain, the first of May was still a holiday. They devoted it to the worship of the goddess Flora, and it was 5-day party called (appropriately) Floralia. These traditions gradually blended with those of Beltane. By the Medieval era, every village had a Maypole, which was brought in with much rejoicing and partying (it was a point of pride for each village to have the largest, most ornate pole around!). There would be dancing, music, feasting, markets and (again) parties. A May Queen would be chosen and May baskets left on doorsteps.

The Puritans did not like the May Day traditions (predictably--they also shut down the theaters), and the Long Parliament put a stop to the public celebrations in 1644 on the grounds that they were pagan in origin. When Charles II came back to the throne, Fun was back, and the Maypole reappeared. The Puritanical influence also meant that May Day never caught on in a big way in America, but some of us like to celebrate it in our little ways...

More information can be found about the holiday here! Do you do anything to celebrate May Day??

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