I am writing this Blog at home on 1st May. By long tradition across the British Isles, this day was recognised as the first day of summer. Falling almost half way between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, it marked the calendar day when livestock were moved to their summer pastures. However, its agricultural and social significance was so much more than just that.
May Day began the six week season of Beltane, the time of nature’s great flourishing. The Queen of the May (symbolised by the flowering hawthorn) and the Green Man bring with them the rapid growth of crops and flowers that will ultimately lead to mature growth and food security.
When our lives were more closely linked to the turning of the seasons, such a moment was a time of jubilation, marked with communal gatherings for feasting and fire festivals. I am told that a Beltane fire festival is an annual event at Calton Hill in Edinburgh on the night of 30th April.
In Oxford I have joined the crowds on many a May morning that gather on Magdalene Bridge at dawn to hear the college choir sing in the summer with traditional seasonal carols.
“Summer is a-coming in, loudly sing cuckoo…”
Why am I wittering on about these largely lost celebrations? Well, for the most part we are losing these punctuations of life linked to the rhythm of nature.
One positive side effect for many of us during Covid has been the rediscovery of the natural joys of our local footpaths, parks and gardens. Many of us have metred out our locked-down days with a new appreciation of small escapes into green spaces or even into wildness. We have observed the weather more closely. We have tasted the delight of being dressed for the season and drunk deeply the outside air. Above all we have noticed the turning seasons.
Those tastes of nature have supported our wellbeing and provided families with quality time together. They have been moments that have quite simply kept us going. So why shouldn’t we maintain our closer relationship with nature’s rhythms and rediscover our ancient celebrations?
It’s not too late to celebrate Beltane. And after that? The summer solstice, of course, welcoming in the season of Litha (light). See you around then for my next wellbeing blog and in the meantime, why not take a look at our latest conference – Flourishing Lives: transforming the impact of wellbeing teaching