O the month of May, the merry month of May,
So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green!
~Thomas Decker, The Shoemaker’s Holiday
I just love saying, the Merry Month of May! Maybe it’s the alliteration or maybe, it’s because I love May. I’m not the first or the last that will think May is a merry month. A book, several songs, a play and movies have all used the phrase Merry Month of May. For me, it evokes a feeling of joy and anticipation. I’m really looking forward to May.
The first day of May is the halfway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Early Celtic celebrations focused on agricultural events like crops starting to sprout and animals procreating. Bringing in the May meant bringing in flowers and green branches to decorate homes and opening up doors for the fresh May air. Girls would wash their faces in the morning dew to encourage beauty. There were many more traditions such as filling baskets or cones with flowers and sweets to leave at front doors anonymously, weaving garlands from flowers and dancing around a maypole. Huge bonfires were lit and the area residents enjoyed food and dancing.
Food for the Celtic celebrations would have included ingredients grown in spring such as asparagus, leeks, mushrooms, peas, lettuces, fresh herbs and berries, as well as fresh fish and meats. However some ingredients would have been a bit different than what we serve today. They used all kinds of ingredients that were more readily available like nettles from the sea, wild herbs and plants such as sweet woodruff. The Celts mined salt which they used to preserve cheese. They are given credit for helping introduce butter churning to modern Europe. The Celts would likely have served salmon since they believed it represented wisdom. Maybe that’s where the idea that fish is “brain food” originated!
The first of May is still celebrated in other parts of the world, but the Puritans discouraged any “pagan rites,” so it’s not as embraced by our country. I’m always up for a celebration and any event that gets me outside for a party sounds good to me. So let’s celebrate the first day of May!
Merry May Day Celebration:
- Make a cone to fill with flowers or treats. I love this idea of leaving a cone or basket of flowers and goodies at someone’s front door. Think about surprising grandparents, neighbors or others that would love this gesture. It’s a nice way to start off the month.
- Set up your own Maypole. For all ages, dancing around the Maypole is fun and silly at the same time. We all need a little silly!
- Dress the part. Make flower garlands to wear on your head. Here’s an easy tutorial.
- Make your own bonfire. Light up a fire in a fire-pit, fireplace or turn on a virtual fire to set the scene. Attend (virtually) the Beltane Fire Festival of Scotland through their podcast. Members of their society share their poems, stories, songs and more.
- Tell stories. Children love to hear stories of when we were young or other family histories. Telling stories is an art and is an important skill to encourage in our children.
- Read favorite poems about spring. Make a contest as to who reads their poem with the most flair. Check out this listing for great poems. Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king, Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,…~Thomas Nashe
- Make a cake. Some May celebrations included a cake; A special oatcake or bannock made from eggs, milk, and oatmeal was eaten by all and offered to animals and plants in return for the promise of a full harvest. Try making a simple (and tastier) cake such as a Vanilla Pound Cake or our favorite Hot Milk Cake. Decorate with fresh flowers and berries. (Quick tip: Place a glass in center of bundt cake to hold your flowers.)
- Set up a feast. Asparagus, leeks, mushrooms, peas, lettuces, fish, fresh herbs and berries were likely found on the Celt’s tables Search by ingredient in your DinnerTime Recipe Box for recipes perfect for your First Day of May feast.