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OUT IN THE YARD: May Day throughout time

By Jefferson County Master Gardener Eileen Slater

Traditional May Day celebrations were agricultural festivals known for the coming of summer and associated with flowers and trees.

The earliest known May Day celebrations date back to pre-Christian time.

The Celtics celebrated Beltane, a Gaelic May Day. It was held halfway between the   spring equinox and summer solstice.

Cattle, doors, windows and byres were adorned with yellow May flowers.

The yellow flowers were believed to be primrose, hawthorn, gorse, hazel and marsh marigold.

These flowers were sometimes made into bouquets, garlands  or crosses.

These flowers likely imitated fires commonly started as part of the celebration.

The May Bush was a small tree or branch decorated with bright flowers, ribbons, painted shells and so forth. There were household May Bushes and community May Bushes. Community May Bushes were decorated by whole neighborhoods.

In ancient Roman times, Flora, the goddess of the flowers, was celebrated by the wearing of floral wreaths in your hair.

The Floralia festival began in Rome between 238-240 B.C. This holiday ran from April 28-May 3 and was officially determined by Julius Caesar when he fixed the Roman calendar. The Romans introduced these rituals to Britain and they were integrated into May Pole dancing.

Many of our May Day celebrations are traced to Medieval England. At that time the English would celebrate by going out into the country or woods “going a maying” and gathering greenery and flowers or “bringing in the May.”

May poles or May trees were found in every English village. Trees symbolized great vitality and fertility of nature and were  often used at the spring festivals of antiquity.

Dances were held around the tree.

May Day is celebrated in many ways here in America.

It is the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker, Law Day, Loyalty Day and Lei Day.  The pure white lily is associated with Mary for the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker.

In Hawaii, the first of May is celebrated with the tradition of the lei and since 1929 has been called Lei Day,   Plumerias, orchids, maile leaves and ti leaves are commonly used.to fashion garlands or wreaths called leis.

In Texas practices include school children holding ribbons dancing around the May Pole, annual community festivals, dances, parades, barbecues and crowning of the May queen. May Day baskets can be made of paper plates, cups or tiny baskets and filled with fresh flowers, cookies or candies. Hang on a neighbor or friend’s door to celebrate the day as a gentle reminder of this ancient custom.

Pinterest has a plethora of ideas for ways to celebrate May Day next year!    

Or if you wish to get into the May Day spirit, remember the 2nd annual May Pole Festival on  Saturday, May 7, from noon to 6:30 pm at Beaumont Botanical Gardens.

In the meantime, Happy May Day to all!

Reach Jefferson County Master Gardener Eileen Slater at enslater08@gmail.com or call the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at (409) 835-8461.