May Day is a cross-quarter day, associated with the Celtic festival of Beltane and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night. May Day falls exactly half of a year from November 1, another cross-quarter day which is also associated with various northern European pagan and neopagan festivals such as Samhain. May Day marks the end of the uncomfortable winter half of the year in the Northern hemisphere, and it has traditionally been an occasion for popular and often raucous celebrations, regardless of the locally prevalent political or religious establishment.
As Europe became Christianize the pagan holidays lost their religious character and either morphed into popular secular celebrations, as with May Day, or were given new Christian interpretations while retaining many traditional pagan features, as with Christmas, Easter, and All Saint’s Day. Beginning in the 20th century, many neopagans began reconstructing the old traditions and celebrating May Day as a pagan religious festival[Beltane] once more.
England—Traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen, celebrating Green Man day and dancing around a Maypole. Much of this tradition derives from the pagan festival of Beltane. May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries. It is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility and revelry with fetes and community gatherings. Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the May Pole, around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons. The May Day Bank Holiday was traditionally the only one to affect the state school calendar.
In rural regions of Germany, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of maypoles, and young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air, wurst and beer. Motto: “Tanz in den Mai!” (“Dance into May!”).
The Americas–May Day festivities at National Park Seminary in Maryland, 1907.May Day was also celebrated by some early European settlers of the American continent. In some parts of the United States, May Day baskets are made. These baskets are small and usually filled with treats are left at someone’s doorstep. When you ring the bell, you are supposed to run away. If you are caught then the other person gets to kiss you.
In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day, and is normally set aside as a day to celebrate island culture in general and native Hawaiian culture in particular. While it was invented by a poet and a local newspaper columnist in the 1920s, it has since been adopted by state and local government as well as by the residents, and has taken on a sense of general spring celebration there. The first Lei Day was proposed in 1927 in Honolulu. Leonard “Red” and Ruth Hawk composed “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii the traditional holiday song. Originally it was a contemporary fox trot, later rearranged as the Hawaiian hula song performed today.
May Day-Beltane Practices of Old
Going A-Maying & Bringing in the May — Merry-making and Nature communion. Midpoint between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. In Pagan Rome, Floralia, from April 27-May 3 was the festival of the Flower Goddess Flora and the flowering of springtime. On May 1, offerings were made to Bona Dea (as Mother Earth), the Lares (household guardian spirits), and Maia (Goddess of Increase) from whom May gets its name. Roman Catholic traditions of crowning statues of Mary with flowers on May 1 have Roman Pagan roots. Beltane marks the second half of the Celtic Year; one of the four Celtic Fire Festivals. Complement to Samhain, it is a time of divination and communion with Fairy Folk/Nature Spirits. Pastoral tradition of turning sheep, cows, other livestock out to pasture. By Celtic reckoning, the actual Beltane celebration begins on sundown of the preceding day, April 30, because the Celts always figured their days from sundown to sundown. And sundown was the proper time for Druids to kindle the great Belfires on the tops of the nearest beacon hill (such as Tara Hill, Co. Meath, in Ireland). These “need-fires” had healing properties.
Frequently, cattle would be driven between two such bonfires (oak wood was the favorite fuel for them) and, on the morrow, they would be taken to their summer pastures. In Pagan Scandinavia, mock battles between Winter and Summer were enacted at this time. Building on older tradition of this time being a holiday for the masses, in the twentieth century, May Day has been a workers’ holiday in many places.