May Day is a day that I remember celebrating in early elementary school by making a basket filled with paper flowers to give to my mother. I can recall giving it to her out in our backyard while standing next to the flowering lilac bush. In the memory, the lilacs are filling the air with their sweet smell, and purple petals are raining down on us as we twirl in frothy white dresses amidst a sea of silky grass and the last of the tulips…. but I think in the 30 years that have passed since the event, May Day and mother’s day got rolled into one, along with a little bit of a dream on the side. At any rate, the first day of May is a time to celebrate, give of ourselves and take deep breaths of air laced with the sweet scent of spring blossoming.
In Irish mythology, May Day is known as Beltane – a time when the door to winter is firmly shut as the season of summer and lushness waits in the wings. But it isn’t here yet – this time of mid spring is a time of planting seeds, of transformation, of emergence and of reclaiming the communities that we let go dormant when the days got dark. But the light is back, and earth is green, and the soil is aching to support new life.
Today Eva (my four year old) and I spent most of the afternoon meandering around in the woods near our home looking for Jack in the Pulpit, wandering through the hay field looking for fairies and examining gopher holes, and speculating when Jerry, the neighbor who graciously tills up part of our garden each year, would arrive to do the deed. We discovered a new egg in the ground sparrow nest that we’d found the day before, danced around clutching dandelions and last year’s black eyed susans and after a while, marveled at the smell of freshly turned over soil as Eva cheered the tiller on as only a four year old can.
But back to the old traditions….one of the ancient Beltane customs was to douse the fire in the home hearth that had been burning all winter long and start one anew, this time lighting the home hearth from the community bonfire as a way to rekindle connections and share energy with neighbors.
We didn’t light a community bonfire today, and our home hearth has been doused for weeks already. But we did refresh conversations that were left off back in the fall. We didn’t jump over burning embers to encourage fertility, but we did jump in jubilation upon seeing new life spring forth from the ground and from other creatures around us. We didn’t dance around a May pole, but we did engage in the ancient yet always new dance that is given rhythm by the turn of the year.
So May Day here wasn’t anything that may have appeared out of the ordinary, but in the midst of just another spring day, we welcomed the transformation and revitalization that happens when we let the earth lead.
“The Beltane fire sends its flames to the sun, The promise of Summer warmth to come, The Horned God dances through the green, Chasing after his Goddess and Queen. Hawthorn blossoms in radiant white, And clarity grows in the quickening light, Now is the time for action and life, To fertilise plans and banish strife. Take the leap across the Beltane fire, And let the energies take you higher.”
Photo Credit: Igor Zenin