There are eight main (once) sacred days in Ireland. Imbolc/St. Brigid’s day, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lammas, Mabon, Samhain, and Yule. Since it’s almost May, I’m going to highlight Beltane.
Beltane is celebrated on the 1st of May. In the United States, you may have celebrated or heard of May Day. I do remember having special spring things at school for May Day and one park near my apartment went all out. There was a flag pole in the center of the park and on May Day, they tied colorful ribbons to the top and children would take the bottom end and skip around the pole, twisting the ribbon around it. Then we’d make flower crowns and have cupcakes. I was surprised that no one I know in the west remembers any May Day celebrations. Maybe it’s all the Irish in the east? At any rate, May Day comes from Beltane.
Beltane is about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. It is a Celtic word for “the fires of Bel”. Bel is most likely Belenus, the sun god. There are other spellings, which then would interpret as ‘a bright fire’, or ‘a lucky fire’. Pagans (then and now) light two bonfires, believing that the smoke purifies and increases fertility. One could dance around the flames or jump over them. In the old days, they’d run cattle between the two fires. It is celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Devon, and Cornwall. (This is the Gaelic regions of the British Isles.)
This is a time that pays tribute to Mother Earth and Father Sun. Modern day Pagans/Wiccans/Etc. have revived many of the celebrations. Some fun activities you can do is weave flower crowns, create your own May Pole, and my favorite suggestion is to create a May basket with flowers/seeds/spring type things, and bring it to someone who may need cheering up.
If you think about how hard survival was in the past, especially making it through winter, it’s easy to see how celebrating spring makes sense. Warmth, food, baby animals, and life returning to the world after living through a bitter time would be joyous. Maybe we take spring for granted and giving a nod to some of the old ways can show gratitude for all we have. After all, there is something magical in budding leaves and those flowers peeking out of the ground, brown grass turning green, and a breeze blowing warm instead of cold.
Hmmm, what should I put in my May basket?
If you happen to be in a place that does celebrate Beltane, you might want to join the festival. See what your local area has—you might be surprised. Just so you know, if you search for information on Pinterest or search engines, you’ll start to get a lot of pagan-ish stuff popping up!
All cultures have some sort of spring celebration, so you might want to see what your ancestors did to celebrate spring.
Do you have any May Day memories? Is there a Beltane festival in your area? I’d love to know!