The first of May is a holiday with both ancient roots and a completely modern aspect. As a person fond of traditional festivities I celebrate it as Beltane, as the Gaelic first day of summer was known.
One practice I love is the creation of May baskets. The old custom was to secretly leave the baskets of flowers and treats on someone’s porch or doorstep early in the morning. My introduction to May baskets came when I lived in Annapolis, Maryland. On the morning of May first the doorways of homes and businesses are adorned with beautiful baskets full of flowers. What started as a Garden Club beautification project over fifty years ago has evolved into an elaborate tradition in which residents and business not only decorate but compete for prize ribbons. An early morning walk around the historic district to view all the baskets and a coffee at a dockside coffee shop to listen to everyone comparing notes is a memory I will always cherish.
Many of the customs I enjoy about Beltane will not be enjoyed this year. I used to go to festivals, but there are none near and I am so involved with so many projects and tasks I haven’t the time to travel far. I will try to make a door basket at least this year. I have about had it with the boken storm door my landlord refused to repair or replace. The only reason I haven’t gone ahead with taking it off is that it is the only backup to the failing latch of the front door. I ran out to mail the tax extensions the other day and came home to find the front door wide open and only the wonky storm door shut, keeping in the cats. The home inspector specifically listed both front doors as deficient. So a basket will have to fit between the two, when the storm door is shut. I think there are some small baskets at the thrift shop that might fit. And I can use my lilacs, the bloooms will be small.
continue the basket making for the enjoyment it gives and this year I will be happy to include things flowering in my yard and garden that have not flowered before, including the lilac bush at the corner of the house, which now has so many blooms I actually smelled it when I walked out the front door.
Since the neighbors wanted to cut back all the bushes along their fence, now my sweet woodruff has died off. It grew nicely in the mottled shade but not in the sun it later received. Woodruff is known in German as Waldmeister or Master of the Woods. It grows in shady areas in thick mats, a spreading ground cover that blooms around the beginning of May. So I will have none to make the Maiwein this year. Maiwein or May wine in English, is made with a white wine, usually a Reisling, which is flavored by steeping dried woodruff in it for a day or two. For the celebration on the day, this is transformed into the Maibowle, which uses the Maiwein as a base for a light punch. The woodruff is strained from the wine and the wine is poured into a large glass pitcher or punch bowl. Then a bottle of sekt, a dry German sparkling wine is poured in slowly, and chopped strawberries are added. It is garnished with sprays of woodruff blossoms and is both delicious and lovely to behold. We’ll have to settle for just the strawberries.
Another thing that will be missing this year is the Beltane fire. I had purchased one of those metal fire pits but it has been in storage since our tennancy hear was under a cloud. The fireplace has lost mortar between the firebicks and the remaining spark guard blew off the chimney pot in the last of the frequest high winds we’ve been having. One of the chimney pots and spark guard have always been missing, I suppose I was always taking a chance with fires but I made most of the real ones in dead of winter with snow on the roof. The back of the chimney is exposed in the so-called dining room and when I felt the bricks hot to the touch that was it. We’ve had no fires for over a year.
No festivals, no fires, no woodruff for the Maiwine; is does seem a bit sad. Still, I’ll make some Maiwine anyway and do up a basket. If I can’t fit one to hang on the door, Ill put it on on my small table. By next year the projects should all be finished and perhaps we can find another festival. I love watching and participating in the Maypole dance and all the other fun things you do at the festivals. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the U.K. for one like that shown below in Ickwell, Bedfordshire.