May Day is often celebrated, at least in the United States
, as a festival of Spring
and general merriment. People dance maypole
s and make May basket
s of little flowers to share with friends and neighbors. Many cities, or at least individual parks, hold big family picnic
-maypole-social occasions on May
day as an excuse for people to get out and enjoy the really beautiful
weather again. I know I have many fond memories of these occasions from my childhood
However, as many holidays nowadays do, May Day has its roots in pagan agricultural holidays. It's actually one of the most direct translations. It's easy to argue for hours about Christmas trees and Easter eggs to no one's satisfaction, but it's hard to deny the direct translation of Beltane into May Day. May Day is really just a more "family friendly", far more secular version--it was toned down during the Christianization of Europe in an attempt to find a middle ground. The native peoples wanted to keep their holidays and festivals, but the Christians wanted the overly religious, pagan elements removed from them, and it eventually just became a "spring" celebration of singing and dancing and cheer.
But between the may pole and the gifting of flower baskets (long ago, a fertility charm made of specific flowers symbolizing prosperity and fertility) and just the overwhelming embrace of the flow of the season, you still don't have to look too far back to find what May day used to be.