Today is Mayday or Beltane - a day that has been celebrated for so long. Beltane’s origins lie in Gaelic/Celtic cultures and in Ireland,Scotland , Isle of Man and Cornwall it has been a long held tradition to mark the day with bonfires, gatherings, blessings and fairs. Today marks the latter part of springtime and the coming of summer. The Greenman has once more walked amongst us and brought with him the greening of our earth. Here at Talking Trees we have honoured our ‘greenman’ by placing a circlet if hawthorn and decorated with seasonal flowers. Even though we are isolated and unable to celebrate the seasonal changes as we may wish it is important to mark the day in some way.
Beltane a Gaelic word translates as ‘bright or good fire’ and it is thought that these fires were lit so that the smoke would pass over the cattle and sheep to purify and protect them as they were moved from winter’s low fields to the higher pastures for summer grazing. They would next return to the villages at Samhain (end of October). The bonfires also purified and protected the villages and their inhabitants too and were a gathering point for people to join together to mark the point in the year. If you are unable to have a bonfire today you can simply light a candle in to honour the greenman and give thanks for the coming of summertime.
Even though the path ahead may seem empty today we can gain comfort in knowing that small actions such as watching the sun rise or set, lighting a candle, making a mayday circlet from greenery collected from our garden or just thinking about the importance of today for our ancestors and the importance it holds for us now can be part of a collective action. That many of us are all doing the same things and that the path is not as empty as it appears to us currently.
Just looking at our beautiful wild hedgerows is a joy. Knowing nature is flourishing at this time is such a positive. The little things, the unnoticed, the forgotten now being so much more important. Villages took on this day as a day to celebrate with maypoles, May Queens, fairs. Traditions and customs came in place; to be the first to draw water from the well or to be first to drink the cream from the milk, to get up at dawn and bathe in the early morning dew were all considered lucky and enhancing. It was known as a time for young couples and even though by many as an unlucky month to handfast or marry many made this the day of binding their love.
In parts of Cornwall we are told that those who had been out ‘maying’ all the previous night or since early morning were greeted with refreshments consisting of Junket, rum and milk, tea ands heavy country cake made of flour, cream, sugar and currants. This was followed by a dance, feasting and setting out to gather May ( hawthorn) The May was brought to deck the houses and porches. It was also known as ‘dipping day’ as anyone not wearing a sprig of May in their hat or as a buttonhole was likely to have water thrown on them particularly by children. Picnics, music and merriment carried on throughout the day.