May Day is the 1st of May.
May Day or Beltane is an ancient spring festival in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s an astronomical holiday. It’s one of the year’s four cross-quarter days – a day that falls midway between an equinox and solstice. May 1st is between the March equinox and June solstice. The other cross-quarter days are Groundhog Day/Candlemas/St. Brigid’s Day or Imbolc on February 2, Lammas on August 1, and Halloween on October 31. The day stems from the Celtic festival of Beltane, which was related to the waxing power of the sun as the Northern Hemisphere moves closer to summer.
Because the Puritans of New England considered the celebrations of May Day to be licentious and pagan, they forbade its observance and the holiday never became an important part of American culture.
May Day probably was originally a fertility festival in ancient Greece and Roman times.
In Germany, the eve of May Day is Walpurgis Night, and the village youth often play pranks and ours charged a toll to enter the village! They decorated a little evergreen May Tree with ribbons and flowers that is then carried by parade to the village barn or town hall. It stayed there until it completely rotted.
Saint Walpurga, an English abbess and missionary, has been hailed by German Christians since 800 AD for battling “pest, rabies and whooping cough, as well as against witchcraft.” In folklore, Hexennacht, literally “Witches’ Night,” was believed to be the night of a witches’ meeting on the highest peak in the Harz Mountains. Christians prayed to God through the intercession of Saint Walpurga in order to protect themselves from witchcraft. Saint Walpurga was successful in converting the local populace to Christianity. People continue to light bonfires on Saint Walpurga’s Eve in order to ward off evil spirits and witches.
In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day since 1927.
How to Celebrate May Day
Plant flowers or a tree.
I love getting out in the garden in springtime. I love shopping for vibrant flowers, even if we don’t have much of a budget for them. The kids and I scatter wildflower seeds for a bee and hummingbird garden around Earth Day, Arbor Day, and May Day. Hawthorn is traditional and we like to gather it for decorations with wildflowers.
Make a maypole or personal flower wands.
These are just lovely and fun for all children (and big kids)!
Dance around a maypole.
Dance away the cold winter weather with colorful ribbons and weaving in and out with friends and family.
Make a flower crowns or leis.
These are super fun with real or fake flowers. Makes fun presents!
Have a bonfire.
We use our fire pit in the backyard and roast hot dogs and marshmallows and talk and sing. It’s a fun time.
Give flower baskets.
I love this tradition that must be revived! Make small baskets with some fresh flowers and hang on neighbors doors!
Have an outdoor picnic.
Super easy to gather up some snacks and spend some time in the sunshine at a park or back yard.
Go on a nature walk.
We love exploring nature during season changes to see what’s new.
May first is the day
When children play,
And hang a basket of flowers
On your doorknob—
and mine. ~Nellie Edge