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Langtree Botanics: History and Folklore of Floralia, Beltane and May Day

Floralia was a Roman festival dedicated to Flora, the goddess of flowers and spring. It was celebrated annually from April 28 to May 3. The festival was characterised by lively celebrations that included feasting, dancing, singing, theatrical performances, and various forms of entertainment.

The origins of Floralia are unclear, but it is believed to have been established as a religious holiday during the Republican era to honour Flora and seek her blessings for the fertility of crops and vegetation. The festival's name is derived from the Latin word "flor" meaning flowers.

During Floralia, people adorned themselves with garlands of flowers, and the streets were decorated with blossoms and greenery. The festivities also involved the offering of milk and honey to Flora, as well as the release of animals such as hares and goats to symbolise fertility. Floralia was considered a time of freedom and merriment, and it was common for people to engage in various forms of debauchery and promiscuous behaviour. The festival's association with sexuality and fertility led to its eventual suppression by the Christian church in the Middle Ages. Despite its eventual decline, Floralia remains an important part of Roman cultural heritage and has influenced many modern celebrations of spring and renewal.

Beltane is an ancient Gaelic festival celebrated on May 1st. It marks the beginning of summer and is a time for fertility, growth, and new beginnings. In this blog, we'll explore the history and folklore of Beltane.

Falling midway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere, Beltane has been celebrated for thousands of years in Ireland, Scotland, and other parts of the Celtic world. It was one of the four major festivals of the Celtic year and was a time to honour the gods and goddesses of nature.

The festival was traditionally celebrated by lighting bonfires, dancing around maypoles, and performing rituals to bless the crops and livestock. Beltane, a Celtic word, means “the fires of Bel.” It was also a time for young couples to court and for marriages to be arranged. After the spread of Christianity, Beltane was incorporated into the Christian calendar as May Day. However, many of the traditional customs and rituals continued to be practiced in rural communities throughout Ireland and Scotland.

Beltane is steeped in folklore and mythology. It is said that on Beltane Eve, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest, and the faeries and spirits of nature can easily cross over into our world.

One of the most famous Beltane traditions is the May Queen, who was chosen to represent the goddess of spring and fertility. She would be crowned with flowers and preside over the celebrations, including the maypole dance. Another Beltane tradition is the lighting of the Beltane fire. It was believed that the smoke and flames had protective and purifying powers, and people would jump over the flames for good luck and to ensure fertility for the coming year. In some parts of Ireland, it was also customary to herd the cattle between two Beltane fires to protect them from disease and misfortune.

Beltane is a festival steeped in history and folklore, celebrating the arrival of summer and the renewal of life. Its customs and traditions have been passed down through generations, and many are still celebrated today, mainly in Ireland and Scotland.

May Day is celebrated in many different ways around the world. In some countries, it is a public holiday and is marked by parades, festivals, and other cultural events. During the Middle Ages, May Day became associated with the Christian celebration of the Feast of Saint Walpurga, a missionary from England who lived in Germany in the 8th century. The holiday was known as Walpurgisnacht in Germany and was marked by bonfires and dancing

One of the most enduring traditions associated with May Day is the dancing of the Maypole. The Maypole is a tall pole decorated with flowers and ribbons that is erected in public places. Dancers weave intricate patterns around the pole, holding onto the ribbons as they move. The pole is often referred to as a phallic symbol, harking back to the frivolity of Floralia, and associated with the arrival of spring and the rebirth of nature. In many cultures, the Maypole is seen as a symbol of fertility and renewal, and the dancing that accompanies it is a way of celebrating the rhythms of nature. In the UK you are also likely to encounter morris dancing at festivals and public houses at this time of year. May Day is the start of the dance season for such folk dance groups and many morris sides are involved in May Day and Beltane celebrations.

Awakening of the Jack in the Green is a traditional May Day custom that originated in England and is still practiced in some parts of the country today. The Jack in the Green is a person

or figure who is covered in foliage, typically leaves and branches, and represents the spirit of nature and fertility. The tradition of the Jack in the Green dates back to the 16th century and is closely associated with the May Day celebrations of that time. The Jack in the Green would be led through the streets, accompanied by musicians and Morris dancers, as part of a larger May Day procession or parade. The exact origins of the Jack in the Green are unclear, but it is believed to have been inspired by ancient pagan beliefs and rituals. The figure is often seen as a symbol of the renewal of life and the return of spring, and is sometimes associated with the Green Man, a figure from mythology who represents the natural world.

Another tradition is the Crowning of the May Queen. The May Queen is a symbolic figure who represents the renewal of spring and the goddess of fertility. The tradition of crowning a May Queen dates back to medieval times, when young women were chosen to represent the fertility of the land and the coming of spring. The May Queen was usually chosen from among the unmarried girls of the community, and was often dressed in a white gown and crowned with a wreath of flowers or a crown of greenery.

All three celebrations, Floralia, Beltane and May Day, are a reminder of the importance of honouring nature and the cycles of the seasons. It is a time to celebrate new beginnings, growth, and the power of the natural world. Whether you participate in traditional Beltane celebrations or simply take a moment to appreciate the beauty of nature, this festival offers a powerful reminder of our connection to the earth and the importance of honouring it.

To embrace the joys of the time of year, why not bring a little of the natural world into your home? Langtree Botanic's Beltane fragrance is brimming with mystical frankincense and enhanced with herbs of the season.

Click here to learn more.

Photo credits: Jozef Klopacka, Axel Bueckert and Archivist

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