May Day is, in practice, the opposite of a catastrophic disaster. Think song and dance, a celebration of agriculture, and all things growing—especially flowers. Originating from both the Roman festival Floralia, a weeklong festival honoring Flora, the goddess of youth and spring, and the Celtic holiday Beltane, celebrating “cross-quarter day,” the halfway point between the spring equinox and summer solstice, May Day is an ancient pagan festival celebrating the coming of summer.
The maypole is the most iconic image of the holiday. Originally it was created from a living tree, usually birch, carefully chosen from the woods and pulled into the village by oxen adorned with flowers. After it was decorated with ribbons, people danced around the tree to “bring in May” and to pray for a productive crop season. Flowers are another important part of the holiday. Historically, houses and livestock, like the oxen dragging in the Maypole, were decorated with yellow flowers (yellow was believed to bring good luck and ward off Cailleach, the goddess of cold and winter). Cuttings from flowering trees were brought into the home, floral hoops were made, and people wore flowers in their hair. Finally, May baskets, filled with flowers, were left secretly on doorsteps. (A cool riff on that custom: someone would leave flowers, yell “May basket!” and then run away. If the person was caught, they owed the recipient a kiss!)