In medieval and modern Europe, the Midpoint between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice (May Day or May 1) was for traditional springtime celebrations, probably originating in pre-Christian agricultural rituals. Celebrations commonly included the carrying in procession of trees, green branches, or garlands; the appointment of a May king and May queen; and the setting up of a May tree or Maypole.
Rome: from April 27-May 3 was the festival of the Flower Goddess Flora who, in Roman religion, was the goddess of the flowering of plants. Titus Tatius (according to tradition, the Sabine king who ruled with Romulus) is said to have introduced her cult to Rome; her temple stood near the Circus Maximus. Her festival, called the Floralia, was instituted in 238 BC. A representation of Flora's head, distinguished only by a floral crown, appeared on coins of the republic. Her name survives in the botanical term for vegetation of a particular environment.
Earlier traditions of Roman Catholics were to crown the statues of the Vigin Mary with flowers on May Day, possibly a "redirection" of this pagan holiday.
Originally such rites were intended to ensure fertility to the crops, to the people and the towns, but most of this significance has been lost.
A widespread superstition, though, was that washing one's face in the May Day morning dew would beautify the skin.
In Pagan Scandinavia, where winter lasts longer than most places, mock battles between Winter and Summer were enacted at this time. English villages set up permanent Maypoles.
I even saw a Maypole in Cow Town, an 1860's town as it was, here in Wichita, Kansas. For people so dependent upon the land, May 1 was an important date.
May Day was designated as an international labor day by the International Socialist congress of 1889. It was a major holiday in the Soviet Union and other Communist countries, and elsewhere it was the occasion for important political demonstrations.
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