Have you ever wondered what’s so special about 1 May around the world?
Long before the Romans invaded the British Isles, the Celtic population believed 1 May be the most important day of the year and had for millennia celebrated this day with their Festival of Beltane. This May Day festival was thought to divide the year in half, between the light and the dark. Symbolic fire was one of the main rituals of the festival, helping to celebrate the return of life and fertility to the world and welcoming the start of Spring (in the Northern Hemisphere)
When the Romans took over the British Isles, they brought with them their five-day celebration known as Floralia, devoted to the worship of the goddess of flowers, Flora. Taking place between 20 April and 2 May, the rituals of this celebration were combined with Beltane. May 1st eventually became the agreed date.
Where did the Maypole come from?
Whilst there are still many annual traditions surrounding the significance of the maypole its usage can be clearly traced back to medieval times in the British Isles, where the May Day festival is still held regularly in many villages and towns. Villagers would search through the forest to find a maypole that was set up for the day in small towns (or sometimes permanently in larger cities).
The day’s festivities involved fun and entertainment, as people would dance around the pole dressed in colourful streamers and ribbons. Historians believe the first maypole dance originated as part of a fertility ritual, where the pole symbolized male fertility and baskets and wreaths symbolized female fertility.
What does May Day have to do with the international distress call ‘Mayday, Mayday, Mayday’?
Nothing, as it turns out!
The code was invented in 1923 by an airport radio officer in London. Challenged to come up with a word that would be easily understood by pilots and ground staff in case of an emergency, Frederick Mockford coined the word ‘mayday’ because it sounded like ‘m’aider,’ a shortened version of the French term for ‘come and help me’.