After a gloriously sunny bank holiday weekend we hope you all managed to spend the weekend and extra day off work relaxing and spending quality time with family and friends. However did you stop to think about the history of May Day and the traditions and celebrations of years past? The first day in the month of May, commonly referred to as ‘May Day’ is a spring festival, and public holiday that has been ongoing for the past 2000 years. Usually only celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere, May Day is around the time of year that warmer weather begins and people celebrate the coming of summer. Although the 1st of May is perhaps most commonly known as May Day, the day is also related to the ancient Gaelic festival ‘Beltane.’ Just as April Showers give way to rich and fertile earth, Beltane was also celebrated as a sign that summer was just around the corner. The word ‘Beltane’ literally means ‘shining fire’ and ancient Celts recognised the Beltane festival as a season of fertility and fire. People usually celebrated in the light of day hoping for a fruitful year for their families and their fields. It was honoured with flowers, food and dancing, but mainly involved the lighting of fires to mark the beginning of summer. The festival of Beltane largely died out by the mid-20th Century and as Europe became more Christianized the holiday lost its religious character. However for many Wiccans and Pagans the 1st of May is still as significant as ever and many of the customs associated with the Beltane festival are practised today. Around the beginning of the 20th Century, Beltane morphed into the popular secular celebration of May Day. Similar to Beltane, young men and women gathered to dance around a decorated tree known as a ‘maypole’ which represented the tree of life. Traditionally, they would tie colourful ribbons around the tree and dance around it holding on to the ends of them. The day was also celebrated with a procession, led by a young woman who had been appointed ‘May Queen.’ She would not take part in the dancing and games, but sit and watch. She was sometimes joined by the ‘May King’ who would dress in green symbolizing fertility. Today May Day is celebrated as an annual bank holiday, with some places starting celebrations at sunset on the 30th of April with processions and village gatherings. Modern May Day celebrations include parties, sing-alongs, and parades, however Old World traditions such as the maypole and Morris dancing still carry on in many places.