Friday, May 1, 2015

The Festival Of Beltane

Maypole Dance, Bascom Hill, Wisconsin, May 1, ca. 1917

The Celtic festival day, Beltane, occurs on May 1 and is a cross-quarter day marking the beginning of summer in the ancient calendar. It is one of two "turning" days of the year and exactly six months apart from the other, Samhain, marking the beginning of the dead season of winter. Beltane celebrations began last night night with the lighting of bonfires, dancing and feasting long into the night. The celebration continued with the welcoming of the sun, the selection of the May Queen or earth goddess representing fertility, and the May King or Green Man representing vegetation and growth; a Maypole dance as a fertility rite; the decoration of houses, farms, and livestock; and more feasting.  

Here in the United States there isn't much associated with the day unless there's an opportunity to sell something under the May Day Sale label. Even schools don't have much interest in May Day but it was a day-long festival during my elementary school days in the 1950's. Actually the day was a big event for the whole community. It was so important that I recall the teachers having us out a few days early to practice the May Pole dance until the lattice pattern on the pole was perfect.  I wonder how enthusiastic they would have been had they known we were practicing a fertility rite.

May you have a festive Beltane.

Photograph: University of Wisconsin Digital Collections

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