May 1st has been celebrated by the ancient people of Europe throughout time as one of the cross-quarter days falling midway between the spring equinox and summer solstice. It is one of the two days when the veils are at their thinnest. The other is Samhain, the other half to be ended on November 1, or Halloween.
This is called BELTANE and is a fire festival of purification and transformation welcoming the first summer sun. In some Wiccan traditions, the focus of Beltane is on the battle between the May Queen and the Queen of Winter. The May Queen is Flora, the goddess of the flowers, and the young blushing bride, and the princess of the Fae. She is Lady Marian in the Robin Hood tales, and Guinevere in the Arthurian cycle. She is the embodiment of the Maiden, of mother earth in all of her fertile glory.
As the summer rolls on, the May Queen will give forth her bounty, moving into the Mother phase. The earth will blossom and bloom with crops and flowers and trees. When fall approaches, and Samhain comes, the May Queen and Mother are gone, young no more. Instead, the earth becomes the domain of the Crone. She is Cailleach, the hag who brings dark skies and winter storms. She is the Dark Mother, bearing not a basket of bright flowers but instead a sickle and scythe.
When Beltane arrives each spring, the May Queen arises from her winter’s sleep, and does battle with the Crone. She fights off the Queen of Winter, sending her away for another six months, so that the earth can be abundant once more.
The origin of the May Day as a day for celebration dates back to the days, even before the birth of Christ. And like many ancient festivals it too has a Pagan connection.
For the Druids of the British Isles celebrated the festival of Beltane, considering the second most important holiday of the year. Since it was thought that the day divides the year into half, a custom was established to set of new fire. It was one of those ancient New Year rites performed throughout the world. And the fire itself was thought to lend life to the burgeoning springtime sun. Cattle were driven through the fire to purify them. Men, with their sweethearts, passed through the smoke for seeing good luck.
When the Romans came to occupy the British Isles, the beginning of May was a very popular feast time for them. It was devoted primarily to the worship of Flora, the goddess of flowers. It was in her honor a five day celebration, called the Floralia, was held. The five day festival would start from April 28 and end on May 2. The Romans brought in the rituals of the Floralia festival in the British Isles. And gradually the rituals of the Floralia were added to those of the Beltane. And many of today’s customs on the May Day bear a stark similarity with those combined traditions.
May day observance was discouraged during the Puritans. Though, it was relived when the Puritans lost power in England, it didn’t have the same robust force. Gradually, it came to be regarded more as a day of joy and merriment for the kids, rather than a day of observing the ancient fertility rights.
The tradition of Maypole and greeneries:
By the Middle Ages every English village had its Maypole. The bringing in of the Maypole from the woods was a great occasion and was accompanied by much rejoicing and merrymaking. The Maypoles were of all sizes. And one village would vie with another to show who could produce the tallest Maypole. Maypoles were usually set up for the day in small towns, but in London and the larger towns they were erected permanently.
The Maypole tradition suffered a setback for about a couple of decades since the Puritan Long Parliament stopped it in 1644. However, with the return of the Stuarts, the Maypole reappeared and the festivities of May Day were again enjoyed. One of the great Maypoles, was
The changes brought about by the Reformation included attempts to do away with practices that were obviously of pagan origin. But the Maypole, or, May tree, was not issued in practice at the behest of the second Stuart.
Although they succeeded in doing this, Maypole with most of the other traditions, many still survived. And Maypole is one of them. In France it merely changed its name. In Perigord and elsewhere, the May Tree became the “Tree of Liberty” and was the symbol of the French Revolution. Despite the new nomenclature, the peasants treated the tree in the same traditional spirit. And they would dancearound it the same way as their forefathers had always done.
Maypoles and trees:
Trees have been linked to a part of celebration, perhaps, to the days ancient New Year rites. The association of trees to this celebration has come riding on the back of the spring festival in ancient Europe. Trees have always been the symbol of the great vitality and fertility of nature and were often used at the spring festivals of antiquity. The anthropologist E. O. James finds a strong relationship between the ancient tree related traditions of the British and the Romans. According to James’ description, as a part of the May Day celebration, the youths in old Europe cut down a tree, lopped off the branches leaving a few at the top. They then wrapped it round with violets like the figure of the Attis, the ancient Roman god. At sunrise, they used to take it back to their villages by blowing horns and flutes. In a similar manner, the sacred pine tree representing the god Attis was carried in procession to the temple of Cybele on Rome’s Palatine Hill during the Spring Festival of March 22.
Roots of May Day celebration in America:
The Puritans frowned on May Day, so the day has never been celebrated with as much enthusiasm in the United States as in Great Britain. But the tradition of celebrating May Day by dancing and singing around a maypole, tied with colorful streamers or ribbons, survived as a part of the English tradition. The kids celebrating the day by moving back and forth around the pole with the the streamers, choosing of May queen, and hanging of May baskets on the doorknobs of folks — are all the leftovers of the old European traditions.
Now on a political front, May Day is celebrated by communist countries “by mobilizing the working people in the struggle to build socialism and communism.” This is supposedly where the working people of the Soviet Union show their solidarity with the revolutionary struggles of the working people in capitalist countries and with national liberation movements. They express their determination to use all their power for the struggle for peace and building of a communist society.
Andy McInerney, a staff member of the communist Workers World Party and a leader of the ANSWER Coalition’s illegal alien organizing effort, extolled the glories of May Day in the Spring 1996 edition of Liberation & Marxism. McInerney wrote:
Every year, the ruling classes around the world are again reminded of their vulnerability and of the power of their gravediggers. On May 1, the world working class displays its strength in demonstrations and strikes. May Day--International Workers' Day--is a reminder to the ruling classes that their days are numbered.... From 1919 onward, the success of May Day in the United States would depend on the success of the communist movement.