The plants don’t know it yet but it is May Day.
Hawthorn or 'May'In the medieval and Tudor / Stuart times this was one of the most important days in the country calendar. Even as late as the early 20th Century it was celebrated in many English villages, including Childwall, a suburb of Liverpool where my Mum was born.
But by the time this picture was taken in the late 1920s the Childwall festival, like many others had become a Summer Fair with the crowning taking place around Midsummer’s Day. The maypole and its dancing had also moved to these midsummer festivals in many places. In many villages the Second World War killed off those traditions which had just about survived the First War.
The origins of May Day go back to Beltane or Beltain - the Gaelic May Day festival. Most commonly Beltane was held on 30 April–1 May, or halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. It was especially observed in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Irish it is Bealtaine , in Scottish Gaelic Bealltainn and in Manx Gaelic Boaltinn or Boaldyn. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals; along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh. On the night of Beltane young people would often stay out all night and do what young people do when they stay out all night.
But to go back to the subject of the plants, quite a few have May in their names to show their importance for the May Day festival. These include the May Flower itself – the Hawthorn. I have no doubt someone somewhere in Southern England has managed to see a Hawthorn flower already but the vast majority is many weeks behind because of the long winter.
Of equal significance with the Hawthorn was the Rowan which helped to protect one from the less kindly of the elementals on May Eve.
In parts of Ireland until the late 19th century a small tree, typically a thorn tree, would be decorated with bright flowers, ribbons, painted shells, and so forth. This custom was also apparent in a few English villages and persists at Appleton near Warrington in Cheshire.
The Appleton Thorn
Holy wells were often visited at Beltane, and at other Gaelic festivals like Imbolc and Lughnasadh. Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking "sunwise" around the well. They would then leave offerings. The first water drawn from a well on Beltane was seen as being especially potent, as was Beltane morning dew. At dawn on Beltane, maidens (those who were left after the previous night's celebrations!!) would roll in the dew or wash their faces with it. It would also be collected in a jar, left in the sunlight, and then filtered. The dew was thought to increase sexual attractiveness, maintain youthfulness, and help with skin ailments.
May Bubbles and May Blobs were local names for the Marsh Marigold. I haven’t been out enough to know if they are blooming in the wild but the ones we have in our garden pond are certainly not in evidence yet.
One of the main flowers that many people of my mother’s generation recalled being used in May Day celebrations was the Cowslip which was made into Tisty-tosties for the day.
Tisty-tosties were the flowers of the Cowslip tied together using wool with the stalks on the inside so as to make a cowslip ball. These could then be tied on a stick and carried or thrown as a ball from one to another with a rhyme being used to find the name of one’s intended. Sometimes loose flowers were strewn at the doors and windows for good luck (or to keep out bad luck). Cowslips and Marsh Marigolds would also be fastened to cows and equipment for milking and butter making. Our garden cowslips are out and have been for a couple of weeks so at least they aren’t late this year.
By contrast our Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus), May Rose or May Ball is nowhere near flowering yet.
One of it’s alternative names in days gone by was King’s Crown because it was used in the May King’s crown so it obviously should be out on May 1st.
So much for Global Warming so far as 2013 is concerned.