The coming of summer is celebrated on the first day of May. In many countries 1st of May is now a festival celebrating labour, but originally this day was a nature festival to celebrate new life and welcome the warmer weather.
Many ancient cultures had festivals at this time of the year. The Celts celebrated the beginning of summer on the night before 1st May. The name of this festival was Beltane. It was the opposite of Samhain, the festival celebrating the beginning of winter. On the night of Beltane the Celts made big bonfires.
At this time of the year the Romans had a festivity called Floralia in honour of Flora, the goddess of flowers and spring. When they invaded Britain they brought this festivity with them.
During the Middle Ages May Day was one of the most important days in the year. Everybody got up early and went ‘maying’: they went into the country to collect flowers and branches of trees to decorate their homes. Then there were games and singing and dancing. The most important dance was around the Maypole. People chose a girl from the village to be the ‘Queen of the May’.
Today in Great Britain May Day is a public holiday. But it is not always on the first of May: it is on the first Monday in May. It is much less important than in the Middle Ages, but there are still some traditions.
In traditional Maypole dances children dance around the Maypole. The Maypole, the ancient symbol of life, has many colourful ribbons on it. The ribbons represent the rays of the sun.
You can also see Morris dancing on May Day. This kind of dancing probably came from Spain in the 15th Century, but it is a very British tradition now. Morris dancers dance with handkerchiefs and bells. They move their feet a lot to make the bells ring. This was to wake up the spirits in the earth after winter.
(Source: British and American Festivities. Black Cat)
In the pictures below you can see a Maypole and Morris dancers.