Typically celebrated on May 1, May Day is It is an ancient festival of spring and a current traditional spring holiday in many European cultures. Dances, singing, and cake are usually part of the festivities. Many countries designate May Day as an official holiday.
The origins of May Day actually lie in the stars. May Day falls almost exactly between the spring equinox, the official beginning of spring, and the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.
The earliest known May Day celebrations appeared with Floralia, the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. The Floralia opened with theatrical performances and concluded with competitive events and a sacrifice to Flora. Flora is thought to be a reincarnation of the Ancient Greek goddess of fertility, Maia.
In European countries some people, especially in villages and small towns still celebrate the ancient origins of May Day with slight variations.
- Scandinavia, UK, Germany and the Czech Republic: People celebrate by dancing around May poles sometimes with ribbons attached, feasting, drinking and wearing flowers. The May pole is an ancient fertility symbol associated with Beltane, a Celtic goddess associated with vitality, passion, love, fertility, luck, beauty, purity and the anticipation of summer.
- Ireland, Greece and Serbia: People dance around bonfires, which are thought to be symbols of fertility and purity. Part of the celebration may also include the election and crowning of a May Queen, who embodies Beltane, Flora, Maia or an amalgamation of all three deities. Each year, a May Queen is selected from a group of local young women.
- FUN FACT: European immigrants brought the May Day celebrations to North America and the May Queen tradition is thought to be the origin of the modern beauty pageant.
- France: Lily of the Valley is the official May Day flower and it is customary to give sprigs of this flower to loved ones. This natural beauty is believed to bring luck and serves as a symbol of springtime.
Whether you celebrate May Day or not, in the Northern Hemisphere we can all agree that the beginning of May heralds the onset of brighter days and warmer weather, which feeds many of us with increased positivity and optimism. This year, in particular, we could all use an extra dose of that.