You may not have heard of Beltane per se, but most people have some knowledge of May Day. Although the spring “officially” started at the time of the vernal equinox, also known as Ostara, the 1st of May is when it feels that spring has finally arrived.
Since the equinox, the sun has come out to play more with longer days and warmer temperatures (generally, unless you live where I do). 🙂 Trees and flowers are blooming all around.
It’s a time for celebration and rejoicing! Summer and fun is just around the corner!
Traditionally Beltane was one giant party. In the pastoral British Isles, Beltane marked the true end of harsh winter and fickle spring. It was a time to start preparing the land and animals for the growing cycle and to rejoice in surviving another year.
Fire was a very important part of the celebration and was prominent in the rituals of old. Often communities would gather around large bonfires to honor the growing sun. Farmers would walk their livestock between the bonfires to ward of disease and ensure a fruitful harvest. And then the real fun began with all-night parties!
Being the time of fertility and growth, Beltane became synonymous with carnal desires. Think old school Carnival… but with less bling and more flowers. Having been cooped up all winter long with family and possibly some animals, couples would sneak off to the forest and wild areas to celebrating their youth and feed their passions. It was quite the randy affair.
Modern celebrations are perhaps a bit more restrained but no less energizing. It’s unlikely you’ll be in a place to start some bonfires, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live it up with a few modified traditions.
Let’s light our own fires as we move more fully into the wheel of the year.
Here are 4 fun and festive ways to celebrate Beltane this year:
May Day baskets – I’ve never taken part in this wonderful tradition but many of my friends have told me about it. It’s basically a more summery version of an Easter basket plus the fun of a “ding-dong ditch”. You create baskets full of flowers and candies and other fun summer items (maybe some bubbles or sidewalk chalk, etc.) and then leave in on your neighbor’s door. Ring the bell and then – run! Obviously, it’s a bit more fun if you actually know your neighbor, but still it’s always nice to receive gifts even from strangers. Bonus points if you do this for your secret crush. 😉 Learn more about the history of May Day baskets in this NPR report.
Mini Maypoles – I’m guessing most of us don’t have acres of land upon which to erect a giant pole into the ground and then run around it with 12 of your best friends, wrapping ribbons until the pole until it resembles a tilt-o-whirl gone mad. However, if you do have a sizable yard and the inclination to set it up for some serious fun… I highly recommend doing a Maypole dance. But if you are like me, living in an apartment without a lot of space to be had, then you can always do a smaller version of this awesomely strange tradition. Channel your inner Martha Stewart and go to the craft store to collect supplies. In this case, a foot long dowel rod will do. Ribbons, of course and perhaps some glue. Don’t forget a foam platform to place the rod into to keep it upright. Then decorate the rod as you would its larger cousin and add wild flowers if you’d like. Now you have a gorgeous minified version that can be a great centerpiece for your table.
Wild Flower walks – This is a great time to get out in the world and glory in the changing seasons. It’s not boiling hot yet (I really dislike heat), but not freezing anymore (unless you live in the great north). Go talk little walks around local nature parks and watch as the earth comes back to life again. Take pictures of the buds you find and then track their progress. I have a particular path I walk around near my home and I’ve taken pictures all year long. I skipped walking during the super snowy time, but it’s been amazing watching all the plant life and animal life opening up again.
Color your life – This is going to be on my list of fun things to do for a while. Coloring!! Bust out the sidewalk chalk (maybe received in a May Day basket), or your colored pencils and let your inner artist out! Spring is all about color as blossoms burst into life in all the shades of the rainbow. On my list to develop this year is my water coloring skills. I used to do some oil painting with my mom long ago, but water colors seem more whimsical and playful to me. Whatever you choose be sure to enjoy yourself!
Summer is now just around the corner. Beltane is a reminder that no matter how long and dark the winter may be, everything is permanent and change is inevitable.