May Day in Brittany

May Day is known as la Fête du Travail (Workers’ Day) in France and celebrated with a public holiday. It has become an occasion to be seen to campaign for workers’ rights and social justice but the date also carries a much older tradition here; it is also la Fête du Muguet, when sprigs of muguet or Lily of the Valley are presented to loved ones.

With roots in the ancient practice of heralding new-growth after the end of winter, the custom is said to originate from May 1560 when King Charles IX was given a bouquet of Lily of the Valley as a token of good luck. Not known for his sensitive side, the young King was so charmed by this gesture that, on the following first of May, he presented a sprig of this flower to all the ladies at his court. The tradition is still observed today and you will often see these beautiful blooms sold in sprigs and bouquets, bought by people who give them to friends and family as a token of appreciation.

However, in Brittany, the custom of using green foliage to express hope and gratitude at this time of year extends back to antiquity. For the ancient Celts, the year began on 1 November with the festival of Samhain, which inaugurated the start of winter, while six months later, on 1 May, the feast of Beltane marked the start of summer. Two intermediate festivals, Imbolg on 1 February and Lugnasa on 1 August, divided the year into four equal seasons, the middle of which roughly corresponded to the Midsummer and Midwinter solstices. We need not get obsessed with exact dates, particularly given the changes wrought by the adoption of the Gregorian calendar which mean we are now two weeks adrift of the dates recorded at the end of Caesar’s reign.

La Fête du Muguet Bretagne

When establishing its liturgical calendar, the infant Church took pains to absorb and divert the popular feelings associated with the old pagan festivals by supplanting these with Christian ones. Thus, ancient celebrations such as the summer solstice were dispossessed by the new religion to become St. John’s Day; Samhain became All Saints’ Day and Christmas Day appropriated the winter solstice. The Celtic festival of Beltane, midway between the spring equinox and summer solstice, was most effectively subsumed by the moveable feasts of Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, which shared the same themes of rebirth and new life. These themes were also the focus of another popular festival held at this time of year; the Roman festival of Floralia, devoted to Flora, the goddess of flowers and fertility, which was celebrated between 28 April and 3 May.

The month of May has therefore long represented one of the pivotal stages in the life of agrarian society in Europe; it heralded the arrival of summer, the renewal of nature and the beginning of the heavy agricultural work upon which the people completely depended. The abundance of the harvest and thus one’s hopes for survival through the cold winter months were uncertain; hope and fear merged and superstitions born.

Nature’s re-awakening reminded the farmer of the fragility of the boundary between success and failure; over time, rituals developed that both symbolised nature’s renewal and the farmer’s need for protection. In Lower Brittany, a traditional ritual known as Barrin ar Mae (May Branch) was performed on the eve of May Day. A branch of budding Beech but sometimes Birch or even Hawthorn was hung or laid in front of the house and other key structures such as the stable, hen-house and bread oven, in order to bring on good luck and to protect against evil. Similarly, the gateways to fields were often honoured with a May Branch in order to ensure a good harvest and to protect against crop diseases.

Breton peasants in the field

The May Branches were customarily picked only by boys; a privilege that seems to have continued until the 1960s. Although not as popularly practiced as in the past, the ceremony still survives in some areas to this day; branches being placed in the evening against the homes of the elderly and those of friends, who will not discover this sign of affection until the morning of May Day.

Unfortunately, a related practice, known as Bodig Mae (Girls’ May) disappeared in the years after the Second World War. This ceremony was only performed by young men, who, on the eve of May Day, visited the homes of young women with a Beech branch, popularly known as ‘The May’, which was left against the door or a window as a declaration of romantic interest. Different traditions were noted in different localities; in some areas, it was a solo enterprise and done anonymously, in others, groups of four or five lads would visit several different households and sing songs while one of the party left their dedication.

One custom common to all localities saw the offering placed in the most prominent position available; some were leant against doors so that they would fall inside the house when the door was opened, others were tied against buildings facing the house so that it was the first thing seen on the following morning. The size of the branch offered was said to indicate the depth of the man’s ardour. We can therefore imagine where this notion could have led to or the arguments that might have arisen in the house which contained two unmarried sisters and two branches upon the threshold.

While this might sound endearing, we should not lose sight of the human element and the bitterness occasionally found in a spurned lover’s heart. Sometimes, the budding Beech was substituted with less welcome bouquets of thorns, Stinging Nettles or Brambles. Some offerings were laden with mean-spirited symbolism: Cauliflowers for the jealous woman; Cabbages for the greedy; Laurel for the lazy; Apple tree branches for the drunk; the Fir for the wicked and Broom for the promiscuous. Given the human capacity for cruelty, especially under the cloak of anonymity, we can but wonder what other objects might have been left for the young lady whose only injury might have been to refuse a dance at a church Pardon.

Rogation Procession

At times, spinsters and widows who had re-married with unseemly haste, were targeted in a form of communal condemnation. Those ladies who found themselves ill-served, naturally tried to make neighbours believe that there had been a substitution and it was not unknown for people to stay-up late to be sure that no prankster replaced a Beech with a Bramble. Eligible women who, for whatever reason, had not received a May branch were the object of as much gossip and speculation as those who had woken-up to a bundle of Nettles. Given the anxiety that the eve of May Day might have brought to some households, perhaps it is not too surprising that the custom eventually died away.

There were a few traditional rituals performed on Palm Sunday that seem to have had no theological basis, such as making offerings of blessed Boxwood to productive animals and placing similarly blessed sprigs of this evergreen upon the graves of loved ones and on the strips of uncultivated land in order to invoke good fortune. In many parts of Brittany, blessed branches were also planted in the sown land in order to prevent sorcerers from casting a spell on the future harvest. Evergreen shrubs, particularly Boxwood and Laurel, were believed to be one of the preferred locations for the souls of the dead performing their penance. To plant a branch of it in a field was therefore to involve the spirits of one’s ancestors and their beneficial influence, in the fertility of the land and one’s future well-being. It is not too hard to see in these practices, vestiges of archaic traditions likely transposed to the festival of Palm Sunday which often preceded May Day by just a little.

The notion of renewal and new growth gave rise to several superstitious rituals to celebrate and encourage fertility and drive away opposing forces. On the eve of May Day, it was customary to place a little salt in the four corners of the pastures in order to protect the cattle from evil spells over the year ahead. Similarly, to preserve the health of cows, their udders were rubbed with the morning dew of May Day. Cattle here were traditionally taken out of the stable earlier than usual on this day, to allow them to graze the dew. Great virtues were once attributed to the May Day dew; young girls rubbed their faces with it in expectation of securing a fresh complexion and protection against skin diseases.

Rogation Procession

Likely established to dislocate the pagan Mayday processions from the first day of May, the three days of prayer preceding the moveable Feast of the Ascension, known as Rogation days, were established in Gaul in the 5th century. These ceremonies focused on imploring for God’s protection against calamities and for His blessing on the crops and the year’s harvest. It was customary for the local priest to lead his congregation through the fields of the parish, blessing fields and sown crops in hopes of a bountiful yield. The Rogations processions here usually started early morning and each day followed the direction of the cardinal points, starting from the church and ending at some wayside calvary or saint’s fountain.

It was strongly advised to avoid baking bread and doing the laundry during the Rogations, lest someone in the household die before the harvest. However, it was said that the butter made during Rogations never corrupted and a jar of it was kept all year, for it was considered a most effective balm for healing all wounds. Similarly, the butter made during the month of May was held to possess marvellous qualities for animals and was applied throughout the year as a liniment in the treatment of injured hooves.

May Day was the day when cows were believed most susceptible to the power of the sorcerer; evil spells thrown against them could dry-up their milk or prevent their butter from taking. In order to protect against such misfortune, an elaborate ritual was performed; on the eve of May Day, the cattle were taken from the byre which was then scrubbed thoroughly. The branches of a number of plants collected that morning, namely Bay, Bramble, Elderberry and Laurel, were then burned with scraps of old leather in pots placed in all the corners of the building. Although some accounts say that the fire was only lit in front of the stable door. Branches of Elderberry were then hung from the walls inside the stable and a Bramble, with a root at both ends, fastened in the form of an arc above the door. This ritual complete, the cows were then returned to the stable, being led backwards through the doorway.

Rogation Procession
May Day

The belief that one’s cows’ best milk was, on May Day, particularly vulnerable to thieves able to draw the cream of others to their own herd was once quite widespread here. It was said that one’s rival only needed to attach a string to the filter of their milk churn and drag it in the direction from which they wanted the cream to come before sunrise on May Day, in order to divert the yield. In central Brittany, it was said that milkmaids ran naked before the dawn of May Day, filling their churns with dew collected in their neighbour’s fields in order to steal the cream of their cows. Similar nude expeditions were also reputed to have been carried out by milkmaids in eastern Brittany where it was believed they stole milk by walking naked around the stables of their neighbours at night. Perhaps aligned to beliefs surrounding the vulnerability of milk on this day, it was also said that giving away milk on May Day was to invite misfortune upon the household.

An indication of the ancient traditions that held this month was a period full of mystic potential seemed to have survived into recent times with the popular belief that May Day rain was harmful to the bounty of fruit trees. However, it was not only the fertility of trees that were influenced by this month. In order to be married within the year, in the village of Maen-Roch, the large quartz-rich boulder known as Le Rocher Cutesson was climbed on the morning of May Day by unmarried people, of both sexes, each carrying a bowl full of water. Holding their bowl, the young folk allowed themselves to slide down the rock face; those who managed to reach the ground with their bowl intact were said to wed within a year.

Similarly, in the south coast town of Locmariaquer, on the eve of May Day, unmarried girls would lift their skirts to slide, bare bottomed, down the broken blocks of the Great Menhir. A scratch deep enough to bleed was said to augur a marriage within the year. The menhir was recorded as still standing in the early-18th century thus this custom, which could not have been observed when the stone stood vertical, twelve meters high, must have been relatively recent and was still performed in the late-19th century. Most likely, the unmarried women of the area followed, on the broken pieces, an ancient custom that was formerly held on another stone in the locality.

Roman goddess Flora

Those planning on getting married were once advised to avoid arranging a wedding during the month of May; it was said that to marry in that month was to wed poverty and to invite quarrels into the household. The recommendation to avoid May weddings was once quite widespread but an examination of the old marriage records here shows that little attention seems to have been paid to this superstition as the number of May marriages is consistent with the twelve month average.

The fountain of Saint Efflam in Plestin-les-Grèves was the site of a once popular ritual that was said to provide a definitive answer to any doubts a couple might have about the faithfulness of their partner. On the first Monday in May, it was necessary to visit the fountain without being seen and without having eaten anything that day. Three small pieces of bread, representing the couple and any suspected third-party, were cast upon the water of the fountain; if the latter piece moved away from the other two, it was because any suspicions were well-founded.

If a person was worried about how much longer they had left to live, they had only to look into the water of the Fountain of Death at Plouigneau at midnight on May Day. If an image of a skull was reflected in the magic mirror of black water instead of a face, they could be certain that death was near. The same ritual was also popularly performed at the Fountain of Death (Feunteun an Ankou in Breton) some five miles away in Plouégat-Guérand.

Calamity - haystack fire

May Day was also the day that it was held necessary to visit these oracular fountains with an infant under one year of age. The fountain was questioned by immersing the child’s feet in its waters; if the child removed their feet it was seen as a sign that they would suffer an early death. In other fountains, a child’s smock was placed in the water; if it sank, it was said the unfortunate child would die within the year.

In addition to the May Day superstitions surrounding fertility and renewal, the specialness of the month also manifested itself in magical and medicinal practices. For instance, only a witch born in May was said to possess the power to stop an expectant mother passing on an unmet craving to her baby in the form of a birthmark or noevi materni. To do so, the witch applied a paste made from Heath Bedstraw onto the relevant part of the mother’s body while reciting a charm of expulsion.

A popular medicine of the 17th and 18th centuries, whose use is even attested at the French court, was Eau de Millefleurs or Water of a Thousand Flowers. The most popular varieties of this tonic were made from unadulterated cow’s urine or by the distillation of cow’s dung. According to Nicolas Lémery’s Universal Pharmacopoeia (1697) the tonic was produced by distilling fresh cow dung: “In May, when the grass gains strength, fresh cow dung will be collected and having half-filled a stoneware pot, we will place it in a bain marie and by a strong fire we will distil a clear water called Eau de Millefleurs.”


The physician François Malouin, in his Medicinal Chemistry (1750), offered a detailed description of the other type of Millefleurs:“… cow urine; that of a heifer or of a young healthy brown cow fed in a good pasture. In the month of May, in the morning, we collect in a vessel this urine of the cow which is carried, hot, to the patient, who must be on an empty stomach.” Lémery believed this tonic a purgative most suitable for treating asthma, dropsy, rheumatism and sciatica, if the patient drank two or three glasses of it every morning for nine days.

It was also believed that warts could be made to disappear if rubbed with the tail of a black cat but only if done under the new moon in May. Additionally, a cat born in May was said to be no good at catching mice; it would only bring snakes into the house. In eastern Brittany, some believed that for a cat to be any good as a mouse-catcher, it needed to have been stolen.

Of note in my particular corner of Brittany, May Day is also the feast day of Saint Brieuc, a late-5th century evangelist and one of the Seven Founding Saints of Brittany. He established a monastery around which a substantial community developed and this town, that now bears his name, is the capital of my Département. Saint Brieuc is said to have once travelled with a group of monks that were suddenly surrounded by a pack of wolves. His companions fled but Brieuc confronted the beasts with prayer and the sign of the cross; placated, the animals knelt before him in humility. Due to his legendary acts of charity, he is regarded as the patron saint of purse-makers.

Saint Brieuc Cathedral

I shall end this post with a useless bit of trivia! The day of the week on which the month of May opens, always corresponds to the day on which the calendar places the feast of Saint Germanus of Auxerre (31 July), the 6th century bishop who preached against the Pelagian heresy in Great Britain where he is reputed to have personally led the natives to victory in battles against incursions by the Picts and Saxons, and Christmas Day.

Published by Bon Repos Gites

Enjoying life in Kalon Breizh - the Heart of Brittany.

181 thoughts on “May Day in Brittany

  1. Blogging is work and today is supposed to be the fete du travail…. seriously that was another interesting post. I have to look into the Mayday traditions that existed over here before the current May 1st was adopted

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Thank you! I am glad that you liked it. 🙂
      Good luck tracking down the older traditions there. I think there was another quite close to Floralia. Floralia is interesting as it was one of the few festivals that prostitutes were officially permitted to participate in.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Yes, little did I know today is the fete du travail and the very first thing I did this morning was travail: blogging, general cleaning in the house, reading…then I stopped and said to myself “what am I doing? It’s the “festa del lavoro”, so I had 3 glasses of wine and went back to bed…where I still am

        Liked by 6 people

  2. I still do salt rituals, centuries later. I have several 500g – 1kg pink rocks from Peru and they’re great air purifiers. You never know what can happen and it’s best not to take chances. Each year, I manage to spill all of the water from my bowl while sliding down the sides of magical hills. This explains everything.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. That’s a big chunk of rock! Are they similar to those Himalayan salt crystals that are sold?
      Haha, I wonder if you could cheat with a film of cellophane over the top? Hmm, I guess not as that’s the whole nature of these things; you cant cheat fate 😉 Good luck 😉

      Liked by 3 people

      1. They look similar, yes. A friend of mine brought them back for me from a hiking trip.

        I shall try freezing the water next time. And taping the bowl to my hand. (Don’t tell on me).

        Liked by 5 people

  3. Thanks for such a thorough reflection in history. I only knew about the labor rights aspect of May Day. I have an affinity to May representing A New Beginning. So appropriate for today in our post-corona world. Another similarity with today is that we will come to realize that there are many women around the world who are with child. During quarantine babies were being created. This is what I love about WP bloggers…Brillance! Kevy

    Liked by 6 people

    1. You are most welcome! Thank YOU for reading it! 🙂 Agreed, we could all do with a new beginning after so long stuck in this covid rut! Also, I agree totally – WP is fine community of folks! 🙂 Stay safe!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Colin, thank you for yet another interesting, informative, and fascinating read 🙂 Praise to the gods that no man as ever placed Nettles or Bramble at my door! As our “community gardener,” I’ve found plant pots and potted plants at my doorstep. A big no thanks to any offer of that rogue form of “Eau de Millefleurs.”

    In the Roman Catholic Church tradition, May is the month of Mary, mother of Jesus. I have many happy childhood memories of our May Day church processions, singing hymns to Our Lady, and ending in the crowning of her statue. Religious rituals, much like the Rogations processions you mention, can have a powerful effect on innocent and superstitious minds. Over the centuries, so much has changed; so much has remained the same.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. You are more than welcome! I am very pleased that you found it worth the read and glad you liked it!
      I was aware that May was dedicated to the Virgin Mary but was surprised how relatively ‘recent’ that was – early 18th century. The Rogations processions no longer happen around here but I wonder whether the tradition has survived elsewhere in France or further afield?
      Take care and stay well! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Fascinating to read as you weave the stories from the ancient Celts through today. I always enjoy your accompanying pictures. Here we often do not see Lily of the Valley until June.

    Liked by 7 people

  6. This is so interesting! I have a great weakness for useless trivia- especially when it deals with superstitions. Your articles are just so much fun to read! Thanks for taking the time and energy to research and write this. I look forward to your next post! 🌟. Take care!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I am really pleased that you enjoyed this one! 🙂
      Ha, yes, useless trivia but, as you say, interesting too 😉 Well, to me, haha 😉
      Thanks for liking this. It was a bit of a rush as I only realised May Day was upon us on Thursday … Gahh. Enjoy your weekend and stay safe! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Happy May Day to you and your family! I like the lily-of-the-valley tradition. But not so sure of the Eau de Millefleurs. There’s not a single flower in it. 😀 Another wonderfully informative post!

    Liked by 6 people

  8. Wow!! Quite interesting to see the back story of May Day…

    I would have loved King Charles IX ❤️ how sweet is that?!

    We used to have May Day traditions when I was little – we would take and place little baskets 🧺 of goodies on the porches of our friends and loved ones ❤️

    That kinda trickled out as people became less social and moved away

    I remember a story you told about women running naked through fields to milk cows or slide down rocks for love – yeah that be when I say “I will just be single” lol … no way I getting hurt and scratched for love – forget that!

    I had never heard of not marrying in May ? But the month I married in was not good either lol ✌️ (mine did have an omen that I ignored)

    I have a birthmark … it is same place and same thing as my mother’s – and her mother had same… my children have it 😮 all the same 😮

    Maybe I need to find a witch born in May lol … although kinda too late now lol

    I am sooo glad we live in modern times and do not drink urine or whatever else lol … counting my blessings lol ❤️✌️

    I will say … when you move into a new place – if you sprinkle a little salt into all the corners – it is said to keep all the negative energy out ❤️✌️

    It’s really interesting to see the underlying reasons for things or beliefs ❤️

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Thank you!! Yes. like you, I find it interesting how some of the traditions that we see today, or would certainly have been known to our great-grandparents, originated. I guess it’s only natural that things change subtlety with each generation until one day, the original meaning has gone.
      It’s interesting that you have the tradition of placing salt in corners and giving gifts to loved ones!! Those are pretty powerful survivors!
      That’s quite spooky about three generations sharing the same birth mark because, weirdly enough, my dad, myself and my son, all have a birthmark in the same place too! Haha now how’s that for coincidence! 😉
      Thanks again for reading and sharing those glimpses into the past! Stay well!! 🙂

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Oh yeah!! My Lithuanian great grandmother was literally off the boat old school lol … she did not speak English – very very little – she only spoke Lithuanian but could say I love you ❤️ she came over in 1914… never learned English – she had children to do that for her.

        She knew everything – she knew what mushrooms 🍄 good – which ones bad.. she knew things about the trees and earth… just little things that used to impress me lol ❤️

        I could slightly understand her with a mix of charades and Lithuanian/English lol

        I used to know some Lithuanian but she died when I was young and when she died all of that went with her.

        She was fascinating to me – I was her little nurse lol ❤️ I used to carry around a doctor kit 😄✌️ I was young lol … some girls have dolls – I had a doctor kit lol (and a Big Bird ❤️ from Sesame Street )

        Yeah.. people die and things change – beliefs change … ways we do things change

        It kinda of reminds me a little of languages … because same thing … there are some ancient languages no longer in use … those also died out and left to science and museums

        And then sometimes beliefs are shunned. Sometimes with rebellion

        What may have been good to past generations no longer fits modern times

        Also… people have become disconnected from things – such as the earth and life lol ✌️

        It’s funny to see what actually survives the test of time lol ✌️

        Oh wow!! That is very spooky lol … I always thought that birthmark was odd for all of us to have same one lol

        Which ancestor had that started? Lol crazy!! What did they do to cause that? Lol – it has to be something for it to be same and in same place with all of us??

        Branded lol 😄

        Stay safe and well too!! 🙏

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Yes, there is so much that we think will always be around and, all too soon, it has gone! Whether it is fashions or people.
        People like your gt-grandmother knew so much that has just been lost in a few generations 😦
        You’re right, it is strange what survives the years and what gets lost. Just makes you wonder what has been totally lost!
        Haha, yes, I thought it was rare too and maybe it is as you are the first person I have met who has the same three generations exp. That said, perhaps it’s common and I just hadn’t realised haha.
        Thank you, you too! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I know – imagine what was lost 😮

        I don’t know if it is common? – I never ask people lol … but that’s very interesting – I wonder if is a thing or not? Good question! Now I’m curious lol


        Liked by 3 people

  9. Geez! So many things to worry about in ancient Brittany like looking in a body of water and seeing a skull reflected back…if a piece of bread will sink it means your partner was cheating on you. It must have been nerve-wracking to live in these times. The practice of leaving nettles instead of flowers in front of someone’s house sounds like the ancient equivalent of trolling someone on social media. It must have been an odd time to live in…yet another fascinating read I loved it 😻

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Haha, yes, there really did seem to have been a strong belief in the innate power of this month. As you say, some quite peculiar May Day practices and beliefs back then 😉
      Thanks for reading and I am most grateful that you liked it! 🙂
      Stay well!

      Liked by 3 people

    1. I am really glad that you enjoyed the read! Thank you!! 🙂 It’s quite funny, isn’t it, how some rituals have changed completely whilst some little bits of them have remained to this day? Makes you wonder why some bits were dropped and what was so special about the ones that lasted. I suppose the beliefs that underpinned them were abandoned and thus most of the associated ritual was redundant.
      Stay well, stay safe! 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  10. So fascinating! It boggles the mind how these rituals and beliefs were remembered and carried out. I like the ritual of evergreen branches on graves. It’s very endearing not that I’m in any way into supernatural. Your art choices just blew me away, gorgeous paintings Colin. Thank you for the beautiful and most interesting narratives and artwork that depict Brittany’s history.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I am very pleased that you found it so! Thank you for saying so Holly – it’s much appreciated!
      Yes, the evergreen on the graves is beautifully symbolic, isn’t it?
      Stay safe and enjoy what’s left of the weekend! :-

      Liked by 3 people

  11. The history of traditions during the first of May is very interesting !! As for marriages contracted in May, it is true that they are going badly. I know two couples who were married on May 1st who broke out !!!! Luckily I got married in March !! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you!! I am glad that you liked it!! I thought that I had a few more May Day superstitions but these were all I could find. If I uncover more then I shall slip them in here in due course 😉
      Hope you had a good weekend! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I am very pleased that you found it so!! Thank you for reading it! 🙂 Yes, it really is amazing how things can change so completely but I suppose we have the benefit of hindsight and the changes probably happened so slowly over the years, that folks didn’t really notice?
      Stay well! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Another amazing post by you! I was happy to know of so many facets to May Day…well it had remained the day for workers and their rights till now. There is always such in-depth research in your posts…great work!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. What a fantastic post. I really enjoyed reading it. We have May Day in the UK where a May Queen is crowned by the village and people dance sometimes with maypoles and Morris dancers perform. I always wanted to be in the May Day Parade with all my school friends but I didn’t live in the town where I went to school so I wasn’t allowed to go in it. I loved learning of all the old rituals although I don’t think I’d be dragging myself down a sharp wall or daring to look in a pool of water.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you! I am very pleased that you liked it!! 🙂 Those are interesting traditions! I presume the May Queen is the personification of summer and perhaps even analogous to Flora. The symbolism of the Maypole is clearer haha – fertility and a tree? Interestingly, in some parts of France, it was traditional to ceremoniously replant a tree on May Day! So, the same symbolism, I guess.
      How mean that they would not let you join in the parades. Seems contrary to the spirit of celebration!!
      Ha, no, it is never a good thing in folklore to look into deep water 😉 Stay safe!! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  14. It’s so interesting to hear about all the various traditions and meanings behind certain days and events. I love that green foliage expresses hope and gratitude in Brittany during this time of year. We could certainly use that these days during this pandemic. Hope all is well. Take care.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Many thanks indeed!! I am glad that you like these old traditions too! 🙂 Ha, yes, you are right, hope and gratitude are qualities that we could all use!
      All good here, thanks. It is looking likely that we will start to emerge from lockdown in two weeks, so, there is a little hope on the horizon and I, for one, am grateful for that 😉
      Stay well!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s very exciting!! We’ll be in lockdown until at least May 20th, but with the way things are going here, it will likely be extended. For now we’ll just try to appreciate the simple things in life, like how all the trees are budding and flowers blooming. Take care.

        Liked by 2 people

  15. I’ve just found there was a similar tradition with laying sticks outside young girl’s windows here in Great Britain! Apparently sloe blossom was placed outside the doors of the times of the popular girls. Blackthorn outside those girls with “loose manners”. Elder, crab-apple, nettle and thistle were all placed outside of the homes of girls who were to be insulted. Harsh.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Hard is the heart of the boy who finds himself not the sole token of a girl’s affections. 😆

        Blessings of the season and a Merry May to you, my friend!

        Liked by 3 people

  16. “Eligible women who, for whatever reason, had not received a May branch were the object of as much gossip and speculation as those who had woken-up to a bundle of Nettles. Given the anxiety that the eve of May Day might have brought to some households, perhaps it is not too surprising that the custom eventually died away.”

    Wow, they seemed unforgiving. I am sure the best part of the tradition was lovely. I have heard of the laying of the May but had no idea what the old folks were talking about.

    Maybe the invention of the telephone killed the tradition. A young man should simply call the young lady of his affection. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  17. I really like the featured image. Reminds me of Christ the King feast. We have a procession that looks somewhat like this….well somewhat, you know! Quite something, May Day. When I hear the words mayday, my antennas go up in fear because I think of airplane emergencies. 😉 Well researched and written article as always Collin. You do a very good job of presenting history and your traditions to people all across in such a relatable and understandable way. Lovely read, Collin. 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It is a beautiful image isn’t it? You have a procession for the Christ the King feastday? How interesting. I have not heard of one happening here. Ha, perhaps it’s not old enough 😉
      Thank you for reading and I am happy that you enjoyed the read! Hope you keep safe! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  18. You are the best! I love May and I too feel like it’s the best prep month for summer. Now with that being said, I find it so interesting how only boys can do certain things. WE want to climb those trees and get dirty too. LOL

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Haha, I am very pleased that you liked the read!!! 🙂 Thank you!! 🙂 Yes, May really does lead-in to summer doesn’t it? That said, May here has, so far, been a grey and chilly affair 😦
      Yes, I was struck by the ‘boys only’ rule. There was clearly a link between the two rituals but I can’t see they “why”. Maybe it was because traditionally it was the boy who did the pursuing but I wonder how modern that notion is. It would be interesting to know whether it was the same before the big Christian missions of the 17thC.
      Thankfully, some changes have been for the better! 🙂
      Stay safe and watch you don’t get too many scraped knees 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      1. May hasn’t been the sunniest here either. Down poured all week so far and I’m itching to get back out there to my garden . Ugh
        But I won’t complain, I’ll just wait it out.
        I so hate the “boys rule”. I remember my teachers use to tell my best friend and I that only the house could play football during recess. Well we showed them and played everyday and even hurt a few boys 😂 and we had plenty of scrapped knees. We called them our war injuries.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Haha, excellent! Hopefully, yours is the last generation that will have had to endure such rigid distinctions. Although so many schools these days are stopping sports in an overly cautious approach to risk-free schooling. Hopefully, things will balance themselves out soon!! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      3. So glad that things have lightened up because my daughters took after their wild mother. They have no problem hanging with “male” sports.
        Shockingly 6th grade sports are no longer available to any gender. They all have to wait until 7th grade to play organized school sports.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. That is good to hear! 🙂 I think that it is important to do so. We may not understand the ways of another but that doesn’t mean they are any less valid. I am often stuck by how similar traditions are across the world if you peel back the outer layers 😉
      Thank you so much for reading this post! Stay safe! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading it – I appreciate that! 🙂
      I agree with you 100% – we should preserve these things and if we cannot for some reason, then we should make sure that they are never forgotten!
      Stay well! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks Diane! I am pleased that you liked it! 🙂 Yes, it is really quite strange how so many different days had so many quite distinct customs and traditions associated with them isn’t it? 😉
      Stay well! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much!! Ha, you read it and that is the main thing, so, thank you for doing so! 😉
      It was good, thanks but of course limited due to the travel restrictions that were then in place 😦 However, we can now travel further than 10km and further easing id due in two weeks! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I think I might have been given an apple/broom bough back in the day…one led to the other. 😍 Since moving to the States, I am always a little disappointed that there is no May day celebration. It has too close a connection to evil communism/labor movements methinks. The Christians here are a bit wacky too (including my family) and dislike pagan references. That said, I LOVED this article – it brought up great memories. Many years ago we lived in a tiny hamlet in Scotland and we were surrounded by Pictish stone circles. We discovered, to our surprise, that wife swapping was quite the thing on May Day as well as getting blind drunk at the local hostelry. We politely declined but might not if it had been Angelina and Brad. Of course we got drunk!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, I am sure you would have received the uprooted tree and received a clip around the ear from your father for making a small tree suddenly his problem 😉
      May Day observances do seem to have been limited to relatively narrow belt of western Europe don’t they? And I suppose depending on the early patterns of immigration, the old traditions travelled with them or died away as folks who didn’t share that history moved into the area? That said, I had not heard of wife swapping as a May Day thing haha!
      I am very pleased that you enjoyed the read!! Stay well!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I always really enjoy your tales of Brittany but of late my concentration is limited so it takes me a while to catch up. Your posts deserve a decent read. My Dad was a bad lad, so I probably take after him!
        The village had a history of wife swapping that happened after a very long power outage in the 70s. I remember looking at these gnarled old farmers (younger than me now) and thinking yuck!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you so much – I am very happy that you came back to finish it when you felt ready too!! 🙂

        Haha, that is such a strange story. It is almost like something out of The Wicker Man. That was set in Scotland, wasn’t it? 😉 Haha

        Liked by 1 person

  20. I’m very fond of May Day. The Sunday that was closest to May Day every child I knew went to chapel in a new candy striped dress – pink or green stripes on a white cotton, white ankle socks and black patent leather shoes fastened with a button! The Morris Dancers still come round early on a May Day morning to dance. The May blossom was held
    to bring bad luck not good as here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wonderful!! The ‘specialness’ of the day still evident by the fact that folks wore their best clothes! It’s very interesting to learn that May blossom was held to bring bad luck there!! As ever, thank you so much for reading and for sharing such treasured memories! 🙂 Stay well Gwen! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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