Happy Mayday, a day of flowers and fairies and an important date in the Irish calendar dating back to pagan times. The day marks the start of Summer and was celebrated in a festival called Bealtaine. May Flowers were picked on the evening before May Day and this was often done by children who went searching for primroses, buttercups and marigolds. These were often assembled together to make posies which were then placed on neighbours doorsteps as a gesture to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits.
Bealtaine means mouth of fire and passing by the embers of May fires was thought to ensure the health of both people and cattle for the coming year. Bonfires were a feature of May Eve throughout Europe to ensure good luck and a good harvest.
The May Bush was a decorated bush, which in rural areas was left outside the house. In towns, it was erected in a communal place. The bush was often of hawthorn where it’s thought fairies dwelt. The decoration usually consisted of ribbons and coloured cloth. You will often find a hawthorn tree at an ancient pagan site like the Hill of Tara, or a holy well. People leave prayers, gifts or a personal token of some kind attached to the trees branches in the hope of receiving healing, good fortune or having their prayer answered.
‘Long Life, a pretty wife and a candle for the May Bush’ was a rhyme recounted by children for their May Day festivities.
Among the farmers May Day was held to be the beginning of the new farm season. People started to work in the fields and to put cows out to pastures. Animals and land would be blessed with holy water.
Also the cutting of turf in the bog started around May Day.
Young girls got up at dawn and headed out into the fields to wash their faces in the morning dew on May Day. This was to ensure youthful skin.
People believed the first butter made from the milk of May Day was the best butter ever and used it as base for salves and ointments. They also believed the herbs gathered before dawn had special power.
Here’s to a Summer of sunshine and good fortunes.