Pagan Origins of May Day

Does May Day have pagan origins? Where did the tradition of May Poles, and May Baskets originally come from? And did shouting May Day as the international signal of distress have origins within this holiday? These and many other questions in regards to the Origins of May First will be answered. Welcome to the Arcanum Luminarium. The First of May is an ancient Northern Hemisphere Festival, now known as May Day, which traditionally marked the return of Spring. These festivals were celebrated with rituals to help ensure the fertility of crops within Egyptian, Greek, and Roman culture. Later festivals included the Celtic festival of Beltane, and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night. Many customs from these ancient festivals have found their way into modern celebration, including the gathering of wildflowers, setting up decorated Maypoles, and dancing. Maypoles in particular were danced around while holding brightly colored ribbons that became decoratively intertwined. The Romans celebrated this occasion over 2000 years ago with the Festival of Flora, which was a 5-day celebration honoring the Roman goddess of flowers, vegetation, and fertility known as Flora.

Flora was one of 15 deities to have their own state supported high priest, called the Flamen Florialis. The festival of Flora was celebrated with dancing, gathering flowers, and the wearing of brightly colored clothing. This festival was opened with theatrical performances, and concluded with competitive events, spectacles at the Circus, and a sacrifice to Flora. It was also documented in 30 AD that the emperor Galba featured a tight-rope walking elephant. The Festival of Flora became officially declared a holiday by Julius Caesar, and it was said people would wear garland of fresh flowers, while scattering seeds to promote agricultural growth. Lets look at another countries tradition around May First. During this time, the Celtics celebrated the festival of Beltane, which means The Return of the Sun. It was celebrated within Ireland, and Scotland.

The Celts believed the sun was held prisoner during the winter months, only to be released each spring to rule the summer sky. They celebrated this release with fire ceremonies, and a huge feast. Rituals were performed in order to protect cattle, crops, and encourage growth. Bonfires were lite, and their flames, smoke, and ashes were said have protective powers. People would walk around the bonfire, and sometimes leap over the flames. As Europe increasingly became Christianized, these pagan holidays lost their religious affiliations. However, in Germany, May Day was used to celebrate St Walpurga, the saint credited with bring Christianity to Germany. Walpurgis Night is celebrated the night from April 30th to May 1st, and is when witches are reputed to hold a large celebration on the highest peak of the Harz mountain range known as the Brocken, awaiting the celebration of Spring. This is also the eve of the feast day of Saint Walpurga, an 8th century abbess also known as the head of nuns in Germany.

Similar celebrations to this are observed across Europe in: The Netherlands, The Czech Republic, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and Estonia. In the United States during the 19th and 20th century May 1st was celebrated with May Baskets, in which people would gather flowers, candies, and other goodies to put in baskets to hang on the doors of friends, neighbors, and loved ones. In some communities, the hanging of may baskets was a chance to express romantic interest. If the basket hanger was spotted by the recipient, the recipient would give chase and try to steal a kiss from the basket hanger.

This tradition and holiday has nearly completely been forgotten within the United States. However, in many European Countries May First is also known International Workers Day, similar to the United States Labor Day, which there is celebrated on the first Monday of September. So, Does the May First holiday have anything to do with international distress signal, which is indicated by shouting, May Day three times? Actually NO!… it has no relationship to the holiday. It was actually internationally recognized in 1927, with both French & English languages in mind. Frederick Mockford came up with it as a somewhat unique word, which was an anglicized spelling of the French pronunciation of the word m’aider which means Help Me.

Well… There it is! I agree!… Now you all know the pagan origins of May Day spanning throughout history. To all my European friends, have a good International Workers Day, and to my pagan friends, Hurray, Hurray, The First of May, outdoor F-ing begins today. If you enjoyed this video be sure to click that subscribe button for more informative videos like this one involving the world of Fact, Theory, and Fiction. Till next time, have a wonderful day..

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Photo by *Debs*

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