May Day is an often forgotten holiday, but it’s a wonderful tradition to celebrate with your children.
The origins of this holiday go back to pre-Christian times. Called Beltane by the Druids of the British Isles, this celebration marked the beginning of summer. On this day, Druids lit a new fire to lend energy to the sun. When the Romans came to Britain, they brought with them Flora, their goddess of flowers, whose festival was held in early May. This is when flowers began to be associated with May Day.
Dancing around the Maypole is a tradition still practiced in many places today. In the past, a tall pole with colorful ribbons attached was erected in a central place like the village square. Children, dressed in colorful costumes, would each grab a ribbon and dance around the Maypole, weaving the ribbon into an intricate pattern. The correct weaving of the ribbons was believed to bring nature back into order after the long, dark days of winter.
Most May Day traditions today stem from these ancient rituals. The first of May is a great time to celebrate the coming of summer, new beginnings and the beauty of nature.
1. Bringing In the Green:
In Medieval times, villagers in England ventured into the forest and brought back greenery and flowers. They called this “Bringing in the Green.” You can imitate this custom by decorating your home with fresh flowers and other natural plants. Take the kids on a walk to collect leaves, pinecones, or flowers, and then display them in a pretty bowl.
2. May Day Flowers:
An old custom is to hang a basket or cone of flowers on the doorknobs of the neighbors. You can make simple flower holders with your children.
• fresh flowers
• sandwich bags
• paper towels
• rubber bands
• craft paper or cardstock
• ribbon, cut into twelve-inch lengths
• clear tape
• hole punch
• art supplies to decorate the paper (crayons, markers, stickers etc.)
Cut paper or cardstock into 8×8 inch squares, and then let the kids decorate the squares with art supplies if you wish. Next, roll the paper into a cone shape and tape the edge to hold it in place. It’s okay if the bottom end isn’t completely closed. Use a hole punch to punch two holes, opposite each other, about one inch from the top rim of the cone. Thread one end of the ribbon through one hole. Pull a bit through and tape the end of the ribbon in place on the inside of the cone. Repeat by attaching the other end of the ribbon to the other hole, creating a bucket-like handle.
When you are ready to fill the cones, wrap the cut ends of fresh flowers with a dampened paper towel and cover with a plastic sandwich bag, securing with a rubber band. On the morning of May first, hang your creation from a neighbor’s doorknob, ring the bell and run! It’s traditionally an anonymous offering. You could also take the kids to a local nursing home and hand out flower-filled cones to the residents. Many senior citizens will remember this tradition from their own childhoods.
Dancing around the Maypole is one of the more recognizable icons of May Day celebrations. You can make your own backyard Maypole.
• PVC pipe 6-10 feet in length and two inches in diameter
• Tape, such as packing tape or duct tape
• Ribbons: You can use satin, grosgrain, or outdoor decorating ribbon. Unwired ribbon works best, just be sure to have at least two or three different, pastel colors. An inexpensive option would be crepe party streamers, just beware that they will tear easily.
• Each length of ribbon should be twice as long as your pole.
• Material to decorate the pole itself: burlap or streamers.
• Optional: a small bunch of fresh or artificial flowers for the top.
• First decorate the pole itself. Wrap it in burlap for a natural, textured look by gluing the burlap to the pole with a hot glue gun. Or make it colorful by winding crepe streamers around the pole and then attaching them with clear tape. Leave the bottom foot of the pole undecorated for planting in the ground.
• Next, prepare the ribbons. You will need at least one ribbon per child. Cut each ribbon to a length at least twice as long as the pole. Tuck one end of the first ribbon into the inside of the top of the pole, and use a piece of tape to secure it to the inside rim of the pole. Repeat with the other ribbons, alternating the different colors. You can decorate the top of the pole by popping a bouquet of flowers inside the top end.
• For the Maypole dance, choose a spot outside that has plenty of room for the kids to run around the pole. You can “plant” your Maypole directly into the ground by digging a hole or use the base of an outdoor patio umbrella stand.
• Now for the fun part, the Maypole dance! Tell the kids to each take the end of a ribbon. Direct the kids to take a few steps back, so that the ribbons stretch out from the pole like a tent. Now, have the kids turn their sides toward the pole, with the hand holding the ribbon closest to the pole. Put on some folk music, and let the kids walk in a circle until all of the ribbon is wrapped around the Maypole. They can then turn the other direction and reverse the process, unwinding the ribbons. Once the kids get the hang of it, do it again! Try changing the dance by giving different commands for going around the Maypole, such as skipping, hopping or dancing.
For older children who might enjoy learning how to weave the ribbon into patterns onto the May Pole, check this link. http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf38128743.tip.html
4. May Day Bonfire :
The Druids celebrated the first of May with a bonfire. End your May Day celebration with a fire in the fireplace or fire pit. If you don’t have either, you can simply light a candle. Then, since May Day is about new beginnings, have each family member share one new thing they would like to do in the coming summertime.