1st of May or May Day is traditionally a day of great celebration. Usually we have a Bank Holiday on the first Monday in May, though of course this year it was moved to Friday 8th May to coincide with Victory in Europe (VE) Day, which marks the 75th anniversary of the formal end of World War 2.
As with many of our festivals and feast days May Day has its origins in an earlier celebration, this time the Celtic festival of Beltane, which celebrates the fertility and greening of Earth. In the past it was considered to be the start of Summer. Read on to find out a bit more about this festival and how you can celebrate it yourself.
Beltane celebrates the fertility and union of all life on Earth. Traditionally it is a favoured time of year for marriages and we feel so much for everyone who has had their weddings disrupted by Covid-19 this year. We have had several hen parties and groups of wedding guests needing to postpone their stays in both our yurts and holiday cottages. We look forward to hosting them next year instead when they will hopefully get to celebrate their nuptials.
Beltane also celebrates the greening of the Earth. I've certainly been marvelling at the vibrant new leaves, lush fresh grass and bountiful hedgerows here in Devon during the last month. The world as we know it may have been knocked for six but nature has been busy getting on with what it does best. The Green Goddess and Green Man were venerated at Beltane (more recently recognisable as the May Queen and King). The hawthorn or May Tree is especially celebrated at this time, one was often brought into a village to serve as the May Pole, to be danced around while summoning the spirits of the Green Wood. Like at Halloween and at Midsummer the veil between the worlds is thought to be especially thin at Beltane; it's a time of magic and faeries.
How you can celebrate Beltane
Adorn a tree in your garden with ribbons, make a wish for each one you attach, or do it in remembrance of a loved one no longer with us or for friends and family who you can't see at the moment. Wish them love, happiness, hope and health. We have a hawthorn on the front driveway (which leads to the cottages) and it's next to a spring (it may be an old land-drain or a natural spring, we're not sure) so I'm going to adorn that. You could adorn a blossom tree or whatever you have to hand really.
Sleep outside - our children slept in the tent in the garden last weekend as a change of scene from their bedrooms. If you have camping gear and a garden why not go on an overnight adventure? You might like to stay up all night (erm, not for me) or sleep out under the stars on Beltane eve (30th April) or perhaps save it for the weekend if you are home schooling or working. Legend has it if you sleep beside a spring or well or underneath a hawthorn you may find a gateway to fairy land. (Do let me know if you find one!)
Have a Beltane bonfire - Beltane is one of the fire festivals. Traditionally people would walk their cattle around the fire to bless them before driving them out to pasture. They also used to leap over the Beltane fire - the people not the cows - either way that's not really recommended these days! Instead why not light a (sensible size) fire and spend an evening chatting and relaxing in its glow.
Set goals - Now is a great time for setting goals for the time ahead - the sap is rising, energy abounds around you, the sun is hopefully shining (haven't we been lucky during April?). Glory in it, soak up its life-giving force and make some plans for the future. Maybe think about what you most want to do when lockdown has ended. Has this period allowed you time for slowing down and reflecting on what you really want out of life?
Celebrate nature by really observing it in all its glory. Perhaps identify how many wildflowers you can see near you, keep a log of birds visiting your garden, or look for butterflies. I've been learning what we can eat from the hedgerow - I'm delighted to see that cleavers (we know it as sticky willy) and ground elder are on the menu as we have plenty of that. Also garlic mustard. I've purchased a great series of foraging guides from Robin Harford at Eatweeds.co.uk which are available as a download on discount at the moment. Make sure you pick your nettles before 1st May though as apparently after May Day the Devil makes his shirts from them!
Whatever you do we wish you health and happiness for May and beyond. We hope we will get to celebrate our beautiful green valley with you all again before too long. Beltane blessings be with you.
Katie, Mark, Mia, Felix and Lilah xx
Want to learn more about the cross-quarter festivals?
Beltane (or Beltain depending how you wish to spell it) is one of the year's "cross quarter festivals". The others are Lammas (celebrated at the start of August), Samhain (at Halloween), and Imbolc (marked at the end of January/start of February). These fall in-between the quarter year festivals of the Summer and Winter solstices and the Spring and Autumn equinoxes. This is the third in a series of blogs I've written exploring the cross-quarter festivals.
When does Summer start anyway?
In the Northern Hemisphere the summer months are usually considered to be June, July and August. This is known as meteorological summer. So, you would be forgiven for asking why Midsummer's Day is on the 24th June? Well, when Beltane used to be celebrated as the start of Summer, Midsummer was understandably around the Summer solstice in June. That is when the sun is at its highest in the sky and the day length is longest. Now astronomical summer is considered to start on the Summer solstice on 21st June and finish at the Autumn Equinox on 21st/22nd September. The months of June, July and August are generally warmer than May because of the gradual heating of the Earth's surface and atmosphere during those months. Midsummer's Day also coincides with the feast day of St John the Baptist.
Katie is one of the owners of Blackdown Yurts and likes to write about things going on at and around her beautiful glamping site