Friday, May 1, 2009
May Day is 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 Christianized the pagan holidays lost their religious character and either changed into popular secular celebrations, as with May Day, or were replaced by new Christian holidays as with Christmas, Easter, and All Saint's Day. In the twentieth century, many neopagans began reconstructing the old traditions and celebrating May Day as a pagan religious festival again.
Traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen and celebrations involving a Maypole. Much of this tradition derive from the pagan Anglo-Saxon customs held during "Þrimilci-mōnaþ" (the Old English name for the month of May meaning Month of Three Milkings).
May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries. With Christianity came agricultural feasts such as Plough Sunday (the first Sunday in January), Rogationtide, Harvest Festival and May Day. It is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings. Since May 1st is the Feast of St Philip & St James, they became the patron saints of workers. Seeding has been completed by this date and it was convenient to give farm labourers a day off. Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the Maypole, around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons.
May Day was also celebrated by some early European settlers of the American continent. In some parts of the United States, May Baskets are made. These baskets are small and usually filled with flowers or treats and left at someone's doorstep. The basket giver would ring the bell and run away. The person receiving the basket would try to catch the fleeing giver. If they caught the person, a kiss was to be exchanged.