Beltaine - or May Day - was the day to welcome the summer - the name literally means “Bel’s fire” which marks the beginning of the light half of the year. Beltaine is celebrated on May 1 in the Northern Hemisphere (the first full moon of Taurus) and on 1 November in the Southern hemisphere. The Beltaine fires cleanse people and animals and this is also a good time to honour the house guardian. Beltaine is a time for dancing the maypole and wearing garlands of flowers.
Beltaine is one of the most important festivals in the Celtic calendar, a time of fertility and of loving, of joy and magic and music. It’s a time to dance the summer in with brightly coloured ribbons and to enjoy the delight of loving and of life. For obvious reasons, this is the best time for love magic. It is also traditionally the time for hand-fasting – the year-and-a-day marriage that was a good trial period before making the social commitment of raising a family.
Long after the Christian form of marriage had replaced the old Celtic hand-fasting, the rules of strict fidelity were always relaxed for the May celebrations - and the English folk tales of Robin Hood and Maid Marian, Little John and Friar Tuck and the Sheriff are all legends of the celebration of the freedoms of May day and its suppression by authority. Modern surnames such as Robinson, Hodson, Johnson and Godkin testify to some distant May day spent in the woods.
At one time, the Beltaine morning was greeted all over Europe with a foot stamping dance. The ONE-two-three rhythm woke up the Earth, ready for summer. In Cornwall they still do this which is perhaps why Cornwall has better summers than anywhere else in Britain.
If you wish to follow the old ways in today’s world, go out early wearing a chaplet of flowers and find a tree with the most blossom. Dance around it and sing the summer in. Sing all the way there and back again.
Good foods to celebrate Beltaine are asparagus and strawberries, now when they are at their peak. Chocolate is the perfect food to celebrate this time of fertility and loving, to honour Venus and Mars.