Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.
View your shopping cart Shopping Cart | My Account | Help | Become a Fan on Facebook Become a Fan | Follow Us on Twitter Follow Us | Watch Us on YouTube Watch Us | Subscribe to our RSS Feeds Subscribe
Browse ProductsAuthorsArticlesBlogsEncyclopediaNewslettersAffiliate ProgramContact UsBooksellers
Advanced Search
LLEWELLYN JOURNAL
Article Topics
List of Articles
RSS Data Feeds
Mission Statement
Use of Our Articles
Writers' Guidelines

Email Exclusives
Sign up to receive special offers and promotions from Llewellyn.

Get the Latest Issue of New Worlds

September/October Issue

New Worlds Catalog

Get the FREE app for your tablet and mobile device. Now available in the iTunes Store and the Google Play Store

Also available as a PDF File.

Click for more information about New Worlds or to receive issues via mail.


The Llewellyn Journal
Print this Article Print this Article

May Day Celebrations Around the World

This article was written by Raven Grimassi
posted under Pagan

  • England
    The festivities now associated with the celebration of May reached their height in England during the Middle Ages. They were heavily influenced by Italian forms of celebration dating back to the time of ancient Rome. On the first day of May, English villagers arose at daybreak to wander the countryside gathering blossoming flowers and branches.

    A towering, tall Maypole was set up on the village green, which was typically the center of the village. The Maypole was made of the trunk of a tall tree, such as birch, and was decorated with bright flowers of the field. In celebration of the season, the villagers danced and sang around the Maypole, accompanied by the music of a piper. Often the morris dance was performed by dancers wearing colorful costumes upon which hung several small bells. The fairest maiden of the village was chosen to be the Queen of the May. In some regions of England a May King was also chosen. The Queen and King of May led the village dancers and ruled over the May Day festivities. During the Elizabethan period the king and queen were called Robin Hood and Maid Marian.

    Maypoles were usually set up for the day in small towns and villages. In larger places, such as London, a permanent Maypole was erected. Eventually the Puritans spoke out against the Maypole and the revels of May as heathen practices. For a time they succeeded in eliminating the celebration of May, but the festivities returned within a few decades and continue in many English villages today.

    An old English custom, still observed in some areas, involves a house-to-house visit by children, who bring flowers in exchange for pennies. Once the pennies are collected, the children toss them into a wishing well.

  • Switzerland
    In Switzerland a small May pine tree is often placed under a girl’s window to encourage health, development, and fertility.

  • Germany
    Here it is the custom for boys to secretly plant May trees in front of the windows of their sweethearts. This is said to ensure fidelity and the return of love.

  • Greece
    The acknowledgment of the May season begins with a custom linked to ancient omens. Greek children set out early in the morning to search for the first swallow of spring. When the bird is located, the children go from door to door, singing songs of spring. The neighbors in turn offer special treats to the children such as fruits, nuts, and cakes.

  • Czechoslovakia
    Like the German custom, at night boys place Maypoles by their sweetheart's windows.

  • France
    Here the month of May is sacred to the Virgin Mary. Virginal young girls serve as May queens and lead processions in honor of the Virgin Mary, carrying a statue of the virgin crowned with flowers. Cows appear in French May Day festivals, possibly as the remnant of a forgotten mother image or symbol of fertility and nurturing. Bundles of flowers are tied and draped around the cow's tail as they are led along in street parades. To touch one of the cows is believed to bring good luck, and everyone makes the attempt. An old custom that remains is to drink warm milk directly from the cow on May Day morning. This is said to bring good fortune throughout the coming year.

  • United States
    Although May Day celebrations waned with the passing of the nineteenth century, a resurgence has been building. This seems to have been reborn on college campuses and at Renaissance fairs. Dancing and singing around a Maypole tied with colorful streamers or ribbons is no longer as uncommon as it was even twenty years ago. For May Day celebrations, a May Queen is chosen, but the King of May is not commonly chosen. An old custom also returning involves children constructing paper May baskets to hang on the doorknobs of relatives and friends. The children ring doorbells and run away, leaving their flowers as a surprise.

    In Hawaii, May Day is called Lei Day. On this day a lei is given, with the giver putting it around the receiver's neck and accompanying it with the traditional kiss. Lei Day began in 1928 and is mixed with traditional Hawaiian celebrations complete with pageants, a Lei Queen, and her court.

  • Italy
    Although modern May festivals in Italy are associated with Mary and other saints, their history dates back to ancient Roman paganism. The people of ancient Rome honored Maia and Flora, the goddesses of flowers and springtime. Their statues were wreathed in garlands and carried in a procession of singers and dancers past a sacred, blossom-bedecked tree, the forerunner of the modern Maypole. Later, festivals of this kind spread to other lands conquered by the Romans. In may regions of modern Italy, boys often serenade their sweethearts on May Day.

From Beltane, by Raven Grimassi

Raven GrimassiRaven Grimassi
Raven Grimassi is a Neo-Pagan scholar and award-winning author of more than eighteen books on Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-Paganism. He has been devoted to the study and practice of witchcraft for over forty years. Raven is co-founder and co-director of the...  Read more

RELATED PRODUCTS

Sabbats
Sabbats
A Witch's Approach to Living the Old Ways
Edain McCoy
$18.95 US,  $20.95 CAN | Add to Cart
Wheel of the Year
Wheel of the Year
Living the Magical Life
Pauline Campanelli, Dan Campanelli
$14.95 US,  $16.95 CAN | Add to Cart

Please note that the use of Llewellyn Journal articles
is subject to certain Terms and Conditions

I am often asked how I catch some of the most incredible evidence ever captured on a battlefield. It is relatively simple, but many people are not willing to do what is necessary to capture a paranormal event. If, however, you are one of those rare individuals who not only want to experience the paranormal, but capture it—read on! As a means of... read this article
Gettysburg: Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt
Celtic Tree Magic: 6 Ways to Work with Sacred Trees
Ritual: Thelemic Refuge
The Dark Side of Your Moon
3 Ways (Yoga Included!) To Shift Your Body Image

Most recent posts:
Samhain Thoughts...
Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Sonja Sadovsky, author of the new Priestess and the Pen. The wheel turns, and another Samhain is...

Empowering Readings, part 1
When someone asks “what if” they are usually worried about the outcome of something they are considering doing. They may be looking for assurances...

Less Is Better!
Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Jean-Louis de Biasi, author of Secrets and Practices of the Freemasons, The Divine Arcana of the Aurum...





Llewellyn's 2015 Astrological Calendar Llewellyn's 2015 Astrological Calendar
82nd Edition of the World's Best Known, Most Trusted Astrology Calendar

By: Llewellyn
Price: $14.99 US,  $16.99 CAN
Llewellyn's 2015 Witches' Datebook Llewellyn's 2015 Witches' Datebook
By: Llewellyn
Price: $10.99 US,  $12.50 CAN
Llewellyn's 2015 Witches' Calendar Llewellyn's 2015 Witches' Calendar
By: Llewellyn
Price: $13.99 US,  $15.95 CAN
Llewellyn's 2015 Daily Planetary Guide Llewellyn's 2015 Daily Planetary Guide
Complete Astrology At-A-Glance

By: Llewellyn
Price: $12.99 US,  $14.95 CAN
Llewellyn's 2015 Moon Sign Book Llewellyn's 2015 Moon Sign Book
Conscious Living by the Cycles of the Moon

By: Llewellyn
Price: $11.99 US,  $13.95 CAN