May Day has been celebrated in Ireland since pagan times as the feast of Bealtaine and in later times as Mary’s Day. Traditionally, bonfires were lit to mark the coming of summer and to banish the long nights of winter. Officially Irish May Day holiday is the first Monday in May. Old traditions such as bonfires are no longer widely observed, though the practice still persists in some places across the country. Limerick, Clare, and many other people in other counties still keep on this tradition such as the town of Arklow in Co. Wicklow.
May Day Irish Blessing
‘Tis the month of Mary, Blessed Queen of the May,
Mother of God we pray you, Bless and protect all mothers,
On this special day. ~ Irish Prayer
How does one celebrate May Day in the Celtic tradition?
The Beltane festival, also known as May Day in Gaelic, is celebrated on May 1. It is usually celebrated on May 1st, which is roughly equivalent to the time when the northern hemisphere is approximately halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. The name of the event is often used interchangeably with the month of Gaelic Ireland that ushers in the summer season.
Beltane or Beltain is the Celtic May Day festival. Beltane is commonly held on May first or midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Beltane is a holiday celebrated by Pagans and is considered to be one of the eight Sabbats. It occurs approximately in the middle of the spring equinox (Ostara) and the approaching summer solstice, which is called Litha. The festival commemorates the culmination of spring as well as the arrival of summer. The holiday known as Beltane is also sometimes referred to as May Day. Historically, Beltane was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Traditionally, bonfires were lit to mark the coming of summer and to banish the long nights of winter.
Traditions associated with May Day, including Maybushes and Maypoles
There were several well-known practices that were observed all throughout the Emerald Isle that was tied to the background and traditions of May Day in Ireland.
One of the most well-known superstitions is the Maybush, which is a decorated bush that is left in community locations in town centers or in the grounds of rural residences. These areas are believed to ward off evil spirits.
In many cases, a hawthorn bush was used, and it would be adorned with things like ribbons, linen, tinsel, and even candles in certain cases. The Maybush was believed to improve the fortune of a household or a whole town.
Another well-known custom was the Maypole, which could be found in many of the larger towns and cities throughout Ireland. In the past, Maypoles were constructed from of tall trees; but, throughout time, they have been replaced by more formal poles that are erected in the heart of towns.
After then, flowers and ribbons were used to decorate the poles, and activities such as dance and athletic competitions were frequently centered around the pole.
The May Queen
It was also a common practice during the history and traditions of May Day in Ireland to crown a May Queen using the flowers that were gathered on the eve of Bealtaine. This was an important part of the celebration.
The coronation of the May Queen was traditionally followed by a number of other celebrations, one of which included a procession in which the Maybush was carried.
The May Queen is the title given to the young woman who leads the parade on May Day while dressed in a pure white gown to represent her role as the personification of the May Day holiday. She then gives a speech before the festival dancing begins.
Dancing Around the May Pole
Dancing was a significant part of the May Day celebrations in Ireland, and it was one of the most common traditions. In order to show their appreciation for the community’s stability, members would dance around a Maypole or campfire.
The Maypole dance is a ceremonial kind of folk dance that is typically performed around a tall pole that is decorated with foliage or flowers and frequently draped with ribbons that are braided by the dancers into intricate patterns. These dances are a relic of ancient rituals that consisted of dancing around a living tree during the springtime in order to ensure fertility.
Men and women would clasp hands to form a circle, then move in and out from under each other’s arms while they danced. This would attract additional dancers, who would then follow in their footsteps. It was believed that the movements of the sun might be interpreted through this dance to produce a representation of the arrival of summer.
What is the proper way to dance around a maypole?
The dancers begin by standing in a circle around the maypole. Then, in rhythm with the music, they take four steps toward the maypole, then four steps back, and finally they return to the circle for a count of eight. This is the most basic form of the dance. They are able to lift their arms as they get closer to the maypole, and then they are able to lower their arms as they get further away.
What is the significance of the pole in the term “maypole”?
The lengthening of the days leading up to summer is thought to be represented by this, but the true importance of the pole itself is not well understood. On village greens and in squares, there is often a maypole that remains erected throughout the year in certain villages.
Which colors of ribbons should be used for a maypole?
If you want the dance to produce an attractive pattern, use a variety of brightly colored ribbons such as red, yellow, purple, blue, green, and white, and make sure the length of the ribbons is roughly equal to twice the height of the maypole. You are welcome to embellish the crown with leaves and silk or plastic flowers if you so desire.
May Day Superstitions are believed to bring good fortune.
It should come as no surprise that a number of different superstitions are intertwined with the history and traditions of May Day in Ireland given that the Irish are a superstitious people in general.
On the evening before May Day, yellow flowers were gathered and dispersed all around the exterior of the house in order to bring good luck and prevent Cailleachs, also known as hags, and fairies from entering the house.
Children would frequently build flower crowns and posies out of the yellow flowers to symbolize the sun, and then they would leave them on the doorsteps of their neighbors as a gesture of peace.
The local wells were the focus of yet another of the May Day traditions and superstitions that were observed throughout Ireland.
It was common practice to preserve both the water supply and the health of individuals who drank from wells by placing flowers in them. At other times, people would go to holy wells as part of the Bealtaine festival. While they were there, they would leave personal possessions behind and pray for good health as they walked clockwise around the well.
People used to believe that the water that was drawn from the well for the first time on May Day had significantly more power than the water drawn at any other time of the year. They also believed that drinking this water would provide protection and cures, in addition to improving the appearance of the skin.
International Workers Day also called Worker’s Day
May Day, which is also known as Workers’ Day or International Workers’ Day, is the day on which workers and the labor movement commemorate the struggles endured and victories attained over the course of the previous year. The first of May is the day on which it is celebrated in many countries.
May Day Traditions Today
Given that May Day celebration are all about expressing oneself through dancing and celebrating, the Puritans who lived in New England during the 16th and 17th centuries gave the rituals the name “bacchanalian.” This, of course, resulted in there being fewer May Day celebrations during that time period.
But, thankfully, celebrations of May Day have made their way back into the modern era, and they continue to be a symbol of the wondrous transition from the depressing cold season to the vibrant warmer season. The most devoted partygoers can be found today in Scotland and Ireland, where they celebrate Beltane or Gaelic May Day, or in the United Kingdom and Bavaria in Germany, where the maypole is decorated with symbols of the local handicrafts and trades and painted in the white and blue colors of their region.
Festivities are also held on this side of the water, in case you were wondering. Find out if your neighborhood or the school where your child attends has a festival so you may take part in the activities taking place this year. Or you could be the one to initiate a brand new custom in your community!
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