May Day

Today the ancient Celts would celebrate the festival of Beltaine, welcoming May as a month where the increasingly hot sun (the “tene” part of the word above) would warm the greenery enough to produce harvest. The “bel” portion of the word is a mystery, as it could stand for an ancient Celtic sun-god, Belanos, or could just be a form of the ancient word for “brilliant”

At dusk, having let their own hearth fires die out (which they only let happen once a year), the whole clan would ascend a nearby hill to get as close to the setting sun as possible. They’d set up huge poles and dance around them with flowers in their hair. They’d drink, and feast, and sing. They’d create flower garlands to adorn their doors or trees near their houses.

They’d create huge fires which they believed would help warm the sun, and they’d jump over the fires as a way of emboldening themselves for summer work, and if you were planning to be married soon, you’d do it three times for good measure. The elderly would circle the flames reciting prayers, and mothers would carry newly born infants near the coals as a way to ensure they’d be protected in childhood.

Fire, for them, purified the air of disease, and they believed that a bit of the hair from the same dog could be the cure, as they hoped setting these fires now would protect the unborn harvest from lightening strikes or other natural fires in the hot days.

As the fires smoldered each family would take a coal home to start their new hearth fire, and the rest was scattered throughout the crops for good luck.

If you stayed up all night on May-day, those who observed the sun rise would swear it danced for joy three times upon the horizon before jumping up in summer glory.