Posted by Dr Seona Anderson
|Hawthorn blossom © Andrew Gagg / Plantlife|
The Beltane fire festivals at the start of May are still celebrated in many countries across Europe. The festival was half way between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, at the beginning of summer and was performed to protect people, cattle and crops. One of the Gaelic names of the bright marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) was ‘Lus bhuidhe bealtuinn’ (the yellow plant of Beltane or May). In parts of Ireland hawthorn bushes were also decorated at Beltane.
Hawthorn or may flower is also central to the Maying festivals in Britain and Ireland. May Queens are still chosen in many villages and the branches of may flower are gathered and used as decoration. In the Morte D’Arthur Queen Guinevere goes ‘maying’ with her ladies and accompanying knights (dressed in May green) in the woods around Westminster, where she is kidnapped by Meliagrance.
The rites of May and the may flower are also part of Christian tradition. May is traditionally the month of the Virgin Mary, sometimes called ‘Queen of the May’, and flower garlands and decorations are integral to the celebrations across Europe. An old Catholic hymn celebrates this link between Mary and flowers during May.
‘Bring flowers of the rarest
Bring blossoms the fairest
From garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
Our full hearts are swelling
Our glad voices telling
The praise of the loveliest flowers of the vale.
O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May’