The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Beltane/May Day

May 1st was Beltane, a very important day in the ancient calendar. It was the day when the Celtic people of the Isles would celebrate the rebirth of Spring and the hope of fertility, as Samhain (sow-en), represented the celebration of the harvest in Autumn. As I was busy having my own little unfertility ritual on that day and I didn't get to blog about Beltane on the day of Beltane, I'll do it now.....

According to

The word Beltane literally means, "shining fire." This is one of the most exciting festivals of the year. It is also one of the only holidays that is usually celebrated in the light of day.

The collecting of spring flowers is one of the popular customs of Beltane. For thousands of years, people would go into the fields to collect the pretty flowers and exchange them. Townspeople would often proceed through the village streets putting flowers on all the houses and buildings. People inside the homes would offer them wonderful food and goodies to eat as sort of a spring version of "trick or treat."

Another benchmark tradition of this holiday is the Maypole. In tradition, a fir was used. The young, unwed men would go to the forest and return with the tree that would be fashioned into the pole. The pole was brought to the center of the village to be guarded through the night until the first day of May. On that day, the people would come and dance around the maypole clockwise to bring fertility and good luck. Later, brightly colored ribbons were woven around the pole by the dancers as they wove around eachother. This symbolizes the balance of masculine and feminine energies and the duality of life. The ribbons would then be removed and kept in a safe place to be burned in the Beltane fires of next year. This action represents the old dying to give birth to the new.

Fertility is a central theme of Beltane. The people lived in close connection with the Earth. To have food to eat, the crops and the beasts of the fields would have to be fertile. In the time of the ancients, this was a life and death matter. For this reason, we have a number of holidays and rituals that are connected with fertility.
When I was a child we would make small paper baskets the day before May Day. The next morning we would get up early, fill the baskets with wildflowers, leave them on the neighbors doorsteps, ring the bells and run. That way, when the neighbors came to the door they would just find the flowers and not know who left them. That was in the mid 1960's. Even then, the leaving of May Baskets was a dying tradition in this country. My grandmother told us to only leave them at the door steps of our older neighbors. It would bring a smile to their faces to see that there were still a few children who had been taught about the tradition of their own childhood. She explained to us that it was a way to celebrate the coming of Spring. Little did my grandmother know how far back this innocent little exchange reached into our pagan roots!


Michael said...

That's really neat! Samhain, May Day, Halloween, Christmas caroling... doorstep traditions always seem to be a community driven holiday event. Unless your Jehovah's witnesses, who don't believe in holidays. Then it's just a creepy tradition.

Speaking of doorstep traditions, where did the tradition of leaving a bag of flaming poo originate? Nothing like it in the winter to warm your heart and raise your spirits. Or was that 'warm your foot and raise your blood pressure'? Oh well.

Anyway, I'm glad Nik's there till Saturday, and that you're doing so much better! :-)

Love you!


Marci said...

I remember making the same paper baskets and leaving them on the neighbors steps! Please insert the "you are showing your age" comment here. lol

Glad to hear your surgery went well! I had no idea it was going on since I've completely dropped off the face of the earth and been engulfed by adidas.

Speaking of...there's a big promotion in my future and with it comes a move to Indianapolis. Note to self, buy pencils for friends since they can never write my address in pen.

Take care girl! I'm glad you're on the mend and cancer free!!

Love you!

PS...I remember the quote. Its from When Harry Met Sally. Older lady at the next table said that after the fake big O. hehehe