Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day

     Another significant Celtic holiday was Beltane. Held on 1 May and heralding the arrival of summer and the planting season, Beltane was celebrated as a day of fiery purification when, the Celts believed, the faeries were especially active. In Roman Britain, Beltane was merged with a Roman festival called Floralia, which also honored the goddess of springtime, Flora. Eventually, the Celtic and Roman holidays were fused into May Day, a celebration that may date back to even older springtime festivals from ancient Egypt and India.
     The modern image of May Day conjures up a merry vision of vernal innocence – children gaily dancing around a Maypole festooned with bright-colored ribbons and flowers. But originally, Beltane was a fertility festival, and the giant Maypole was an undisguised and unashamed phallic symbol. It was often the occasion for young men and women to turn their thoughts to more than just love. In a pre-Christian world, there were fewer moral constraints about sex, and lovers left the Beltane bonfires to wander off into the woods. Although the holiday was cleaned up into its G-rated version in Christian Europe, the May Day festival was not a tradition that appealed to America’s Puritan Fathers, who must have had long memories of its pagan past. That is why May Day never took hold in America while it continued to be more widely celebrated in Europe.
  • from Don't Know Much About Mythology, Kenneth C. Davis

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