Friday, April 29, 2011

Supernatural Friday-May Day Legends and Truths

It's only today and tomorrow and then it's May 1st, or "May Day."

May Day, is a celebration of Spring. It's also a day of political protests, a neopagan festival, a saint's feast day, and a day for organized labor. And in many countries, it is a national holiday.

Cultures, like those in India and Egypt, had spring fertility festivals. The Roman festival celebrated Flora, goddess of fertility, flowers, and spring. This was celebrated from April 28 through May 3.

But in medieval England, people celebrated the start of spring by going out to the country or woods—"going a-maying.” They gathered greenery and flowers—"bringing in the may." Another English tradition is the maypole. Some towns had permanent maypoles that would stay up all year; others put up a new one each May. In any event, the pole would be hung with greenery and ribbons, brightly painted, and otherwise decorated, and served as a central point for the festivities.

Beltane kicked off the merry month of May. This fire festival is celebrated on May 1 with bonfires, Maypoles, dancing, and lots of good old fashioned sexual energy. The Celts honored the fertility of the gods with gifts and offerings, sometimes including animal or human sacrifice. Cattle were driven through the smoke of the balefires, and blessed with health and fertility for the coming year. In Ireland, the fires of Tara were the first ones lit every year at Beltane, and all other fires were lit with a flame from Tara.

Another tradition on May Day concerned May Birchers. A group of villagers who made up the May Birchers tore branches off trees and place them above doors. These branches were said to match the characteristics of the households—a broom for a groom and a plum for someone who was glum.

May Day was also a time for morris dancing and other dances, often around the maypole. In the 19th century, people began to braid the maypole with ribbons by weaving in and out in the course of a dance. Other later traditions include making garlands for children and the crowning of the May Queen.


Anonymous said...

I was a May Queen. That was a long time ago.


Pamela K. Kinney said...

I did the May Pole back in 6th grade--the school's 6th graders did it every year.

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