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May Day Celebrations

Beltane bonfire

The Celts believed that the time we define as May Day was midway between the Winter and Summer Solstice when darkness turned to light. They celebrated the return of fertility to the world with a festival called Beltane. Rituals protected sprouting crops and livestock returning to summer pastures.

Raising a Maypole

As customs changed, May celebrations turned into a party. People harvested Maypoles from the woods, erected them in the village, and decorated them with garlands of flowers. The first Maypoles may have been fertility symbols with the pole representing male fertility and the baskets and wreaths symbolizing females.

Children dance around a Maypole

There was also dancing around the Maypole. Young lads and lasses danced and socialized. If a couple paired up at sundown, courtship ensued, and the young people married on Midsummer Day in June. The practice remains with us in the popularity of June weddings.

Basket with flowers and kittens

Maypole dancing never became a popular American activity, but May Baskets caught on. Participants created baskets with flowers, candy, and other treats – perhaps a kitten?

The person giving the May Basket hung it on a front door, knocked on the door, yelled May Basket!, and ran away. If the recipient caught the giver, he or she was entitled to a kiss. This custom was most popular among children and sweethearts.

May is a magical month. The weather is warm but not stifling. Flowers bloom. When I taught, May meant the teaching year was almost over, and long summer days beckoned. In May, anything is possible.

So, celebrate May Day as you think best – with a song, or a dance, or even a Maypole – to recognize that the dark days are over for another season.


Girl with a basket of flowers


Bonfire at 2019 Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh by Nyri0

Raising the Maypole, 1855, by Frederick Goodall

Dancing Around the Maypole. Photo by Joep Zander at Dutch Wikipedia

A Basket of Cats by Leon Huber

Young Girl with Basket of Flowers by Leon Bazille Perrault

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra’s latest book, Saxon Heroines: A Northumbrian Novel, is available in eBook and print editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Google Play and Kobo. Her previous books Two Coins: A Biographical Novel and Rama’s Labyrinth: A Biographical Novel are available in print and eBook editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Google Play and Kobo, and in audiobook editions at Amazon, Nook, Audible, Apple Books, and Kobo. Two Coins is narrated by Deepti Gupta and Noah Michael Levine. Rama’s Labyrinth is narrated by Deepti Gupta.

Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.


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