Hold My Broom is an OnMilwaukee exclusive series exploring the magickal, mystical and cackle-worthy.
For many, May 1 marks the time when we can finally start getting stoked for summer. Others know it as May Day – a Euro-based spring holiday only vaguely recognized in the United States – that encourages people to commune with nature in whatever way it works for them, from firing up the grill to digging in the dirt until sundown.
May Day is also International Workers’ Day, or what my partner calls, “The real Labor Day.”
May Day might also conjure images of poles adorned with ribbons and folks getting frisky outdoors (ahem), but now we’re also talking about a holiday that May Day is based on: Beltane.
Beltane is a Gaelic holiday celebrating the halfway point between the spring equinox (March 21) and the summer solstice (June 21). Traditionally, Beltane was a focus on fire and fertility; a time of seed-planting in all of its forms and joy.
Today it is celebrated by Pagans, Wiccans and spiritual nature lovers alike. For some, it includes rituals both old and new, for others it is simply a time to pause and reflect on growth, literally and/or metaphysically.
In short, Beltane is a time to stop and smell the flowers.
For me, it’s the time of year when I shave winter’s afghan off my legs and blaze up fires in my yard on a regular basis. This year, I tracked down someone whom I hadn’t spoke to in many years, but who had great impact on my family’s life and I knew was a celebrator of this shift into summer.
Mary O’Connell is a farm-based educator who owns Paradise Farms in West Bend. Many moons ago, she was the director of LifeWays, an early childhood center located in the magical Koenen nature preserve in Riverwest and the place both my sons started their journey into the world without me.
Last week, I called to ask her if she was doing anything cool on the farm for the first of May, and like I was hoping, she is indeed.
Mary was in the process of creating a maypole with 10 families who had been coming to the farm every Wednesday for months to learn about nature, spend time safely with others during the pandemic and meet like-minded families with whom they could further build a community.
“This was the perfect activity for us. Both adults and kids participated from start to finish: went into the woods, found a dead tree, hauled it out, cut off the branches, dug a hole, made a ‘May Crown’ for the top, cut ribbons and hung them from the crown," she says.
Since then, the group has been practicing traditional maypole dances in preparation for a May Day celebration next week. One of the dances she told me is called “The Spider’s Web” where people move around each other and weave a web of ribbons above their heads. Another is called “The Barbers Pole” where they methodically and joyfully wrap the ribbons around the trunk so it looks similar to an actual barber’s pole.
At the end of our call, Mary pointed out that people can celebrate May Day/Beltane – and any holiday or event for that matter – however they want, as big or as small as they are able and in whatever way works for them.
“You don’t have to go fell a tree in the forest,” says Mary. “Some years I just wrapped crepe paper around a pole in my garage.”
Happy May Day, Merry Beltane to all.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.