Uncovering the Spiritual History of May Day

Date 5/1/2015

Maypoles are featured in many May Day celebrations

Maypoles are featured in many May Day celebrations

Every year on May 1st, people throughout the world celebrate May Day with a variety of activities. Some welcome the arrival of warm weather, others dance around maypoles, and, in the United States at least, people tend to remember the 1886 riot that took place in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. It is perhaps for that reason that Americans do not mark the event with as much gusto as the rest of the world. The true origins of May Day may come as a surprise. As with many ancient celebrations, the day has its roots firmly in Paganism.

The Festival of Beltane

Most historians will agree that May Day is associated with the Pagan Festival of Beltane. The date falls six months before November 1, a date which is also significant in Paganism. In this respect, May Day is a celebration of fertility and fruitfulness. Early rituals often involved courting and activities using fire.  

Ancient Egypt

Sham El-Nessim took place in ancient Egypt. Its aim, like the Paganistic celebrations, was to ensure human fertility and agricultural bounty. People celebrated the event, which tied in with the start of the annual farming season, by dancing and gathering flowers. Julius Caesar declared the day a Roman public holiday.

The Days of Robin Hood

Robin Hood had an influence on May Day celebrations. In medieval England, the people not only celebrated with songs and performances, but also dedicated the event to the famous outlaw. Stealing was not all bad in medieval times, especially if the loot was used to help the poor.

Puritanical Influences

Early religious leaders not only took umbrage with witches and psychics, but also with anything to do with Paganism. Catholic leaders were more forgiving of the event but chose instead to give thanks to the Virgin Mary by conducting a crowning of the Blessed Virgin.

The Maypole

Maypoles, which are also rooted in Paganism, are traditionally crafted from Birch. In the 16th century, village groups used maypoles to symbolize community bonding. While this tactic worked for close-knit community groups, the size of the maypoles caused much rivalry between neighboring villages.

Old Traditions

The maypole dance remains one of the most common ways to celebrate May Day, although this is more typical in Great Britain and Europe. Morris dancing is also prevalent in the British Isles. Dancers clash sticks and stamp their feet to represent the triumph of good over evil.

Modern Customs

Perhaps because of the date’s association with workers and employment, May Day is now associated with St. Joseph, who is the patron saint of workers. International Worker’s Day takes place on the same day. For this reason, the term Labor Day is now often used interchangeably with May Day.

Whether you celebrate May Day because summer is on its way, to mark reform in the workforce, or simply because you like having a day off, it’s interesting to know the roots of the event. Many people like to feel in tune with the past. Why not discover your history by having a chat with an online psychic? You never know what you will discover.


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