Celebrating Spring Into Summer

maypole danceMaypole Dancers

Though some people call today May Day, it could also be International Workers’ Day, Labour Day or Beltane.

Beltane is an ancient Celtic festival which came into English from the Gaelic word bealltainn which literally means “May First.” Traditionally large bonfires would be lit to celebrate this transition from spring to summer and the fertility of all things. Cattle were driven through the Beltane bonfires for purification and fertility.

The Greek goddess Maia, one of the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) who the Romans called Maius, goddess of Summer, gave her name to this month.

A European celebration of this spring into summer transitional time often included a maypole which is a tall wooden pole erected as a part of various European folk festivals, around which a maypole dance often takes place.

These transitional seasonal festivals may occur on May Day or on Pentecost (Whitsun), a moveable feast which is celebrated on the 50th day from Easter Sunday.

In some places this midpoint of seasons is celebrated at Midsummer. Midsummer is celebrated on different dates among different cultures. In Germany, it was around the end of the third week of June. The celebration predates Christianity, and existed under different names and traditions around the world.

Midsommar Pole - Maypole in SwedenMaypole erected for Midsommar at Solna, Stockholm (Sweden)

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5 thoughts on “Celebrating Spring Into Summer”

  1. What’s the symbolism of the maypole? According to Wikipedia:

    The symbolism of the maypole has been continuously debated by folklorists for centuries, although no definitive answer has been found. Some scholars classify maypoles as symbols of the world axis (axis mundi). The fact that they were found primarily in areas of Germanic Europe, where, prior to Christianisation, Germanic paganism was followed in various forms, has led to speculation that the maypoles were in some way a continuation of a Germanic pagan tradition. One theory holds that they were a remnant of the Germanic reverence for sacred trees, as there is evidence for various sacred trees and wooden pillars that were venerated by the pagans across much of Germanic Europe, including Thor’s Oak and the Irminsul. It is also known that, in Norse paganism, cosmological views held that the universe was a world tree, known as Yggdrasil. There is therefore speculation that the maypole was in some way a continuance of this tradition.


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