Lá Bealtaine : This Celtic festival marks the beginning of the summer season. Translated as ‘bright fire’ bonfires were an important part of this ancient celebration. The significance of the fire and smoke for the Celts as a form of purification and to ward off negative spirits is similar to the burning of sage to this day by First Nations in North America.
What I find more intriguing is the tradition of laying flowers on doorsteps on the morning of the first day of May. The flowers were collected either by dusk the night before or by dawn that morning. Typically yellow flowers were chosen, perhaps as they are abundant all around Ireland at this time of year and no doubt also as their colour reflects Summer and the promise of sunshine : primroses, buttercups, marigolds, dandelions, gorse.
Traditions varied from place to place – here’s a memory from Donegal from the 1930’s :
‘A very old custom is to rise very early on May morning and wash your face in the dew. It is said if you do this, you will always be lovely. Another old custom is to put May flowers on the doors and windows of the house or the cows byre. It is supposed to keep away bad luck.’ The Schools’ Collection, Volume 1033, Page 169
In County Mayo and the West of Ireland the tradition is still being kept alive. I must admit opening my door to see a sprinkling of wild flowers would certainly get me in a summery mood.
As we are unable to deliver wildflowers to your doors the next best thing is to share a collection of artworks in the spirit of the Bealtaine celebration with you. Aoibhneas! (bliss) Lá Bealtaine Summer May Day Collection