May Day celebrations date back to our earliest times; The Romans made merry in May, celebrating the goddess Flora, while our pagan forebears marked the time with ritual and celebration of rebirth, fertility and fecundity in all its forms. Little wonder with new life blooming and springing from every field, hedgerow and tree; although summer, or Beltane, doesn't really get underway until June, May marks its real beginnings.
Tall wooden May Poles were erected on village greens across the land, the symbolism of which is pretty obvious (imagine the first half of that sentence being uttered by a very arch Kenneth Williams, rolling his Rrrrr's with relish) The colourful ribbons on the pole, where the two strands come together to make the three parts of a plait, also symbolise the union of two, coming together and creating a third. Traditionally young women wore flowers in their hair and the prettiest was crowned the May Queen, while young men dressed as an impish Jack In The Green. The resulting dancing and revelry probably lead to quite a spike of births the following February. In any case, 17th century puritans were sufficiently fearful of its potency that they banned Maypoles and the surrounding celebrations.
May day dew was thought to be potent; young maidens would rise with the sun to wash their faces in in, to assure a good complexion. It was also a time to gather flowers to make a garland, to "bring in the May" and give a floral gift to the object of your affections or a neighbour who might need cheering.
Things to make and do for May Day...
It used to be tradition that, on May Day, you hang a little basket or posy of blooms on the door of the one you love, then knock and run away - the recipient would then proceed to chase their floral benefactor and, if caught, plant a kiss on them. All that sounds a bit much for me, first thing in the morning, but perhaps gather a few garden flowers and blossom for friends, to see if we can't bring this particular tradition back into fashion. What could be nicer sight on a May morning than a basket of blossom and blooms?
Smalls can join in too, making paper baskets (just weave together alternate strips of coloured paper into a long rectangle, tape the end into a circle, cut and stick on a base and a loop of paper for the handle), and making paper flowers for their friends. Very little ones can be helped to make a basket from a paper cone - simply cut out a circle of paper, mark the centre and rule a straight line from the middle to the edge. Cut down the line, and then glue or washi tape into a cone, with a simple strip of thin card looped over the top to create a handle. Layer smaller circles of multi coloured paper, cut out petals, make a small hole in the centre, and thread on to a paper straw or a green pipe cleaner for a stalk. Tuck four or five of your paper blooms in the top of the basket and give to your nearest and dearest; you could even add in a few sweet treats to your basket.
Another modern interpretation of May might be to make a mini maypole to decorate a cake - a simple victoria sponge, sandwiched with lemon curd and butter icing, then covered with royal icing forms a great base. Use a slim piece of dowling to skewer the cake, attach four small silk ribbons at the top, ice onto the top and decorate with piped petals or, better yet, some real, edible flowers...