May Day

Time-honoured traditions, events and nature’s gifts on display. From Pagan rites to modern-day motherhood. Plus, a skyward glance at coming meteors.

Words by Ellie Howard

Always arriving quicker than anticipated, May Day season brings a light feverishness. Buds have burst and riotous colour has blossomed in expectation of the summer months ahead. Lambs are steady on their feet, and swallow song has once again returned to the British Isles. We celebrate Earth Day on the 22nd of April, as the natural world has well and truly awoken.

Ancient Romans celebrated floralia during this period. Paying dues to the goddess who was said to have coaxed buds into bloom across the landscape with her warm breath. If the Latin Aprilis, dedicated to Aphrodite, was ‘to open’; while May, named after the earth goddess Maia, celebrated her green-fingered, fertile touch, then these months mark the march of time, the promise of warmer days ahead. 

Across cultures, rites have often centred around fecundity. The Amazonian moon goddess blooms within the ethereal Jacaranda tree. Welsh Goddess Olwen supposedly walked the empty universe leaving white hawthorn petals as she went, outlining the Milky Way. Taoist goddess of mother and child, Zhu Sheng Niang Niang sees her birthday celebrations falling on the third lunar month. We likewise celebrate the birthday of the ‘Maternal Ancestor’ Mazu in spring.

Collected together, all of these maternal figures have throughout millennia heralded the new, showering abundance. Late spring is a time of fertile creativity brought to light, and it’s therefore only fitting that Mothers Day is observed on the 8th of May, as we witness new life grow from the commitment of caregivers.


On the 1st of May people traditionally ‘brought in the May’ in Britain, gathering florals into garlands and boughs. A maypole of striped hawthorn was erected, as it symbolised agricultural fertility and health. Children would dance around it, wrapping it in ribbons, while folk Morris dancers sparked bells. 

The Maias superstition in Northern Portugal sees gorse flowers decorate entrance portals; on Lunar day, 5th of May, China also drapes Irises in the spirit of protection. In France, the 1st of May is La Fête du Muguet, which means loved ones hand out Lily of the Valley to wish fortune upon each other. 

The spiced Beltane cake was traditionally served by the Celts, as celebrators ran through a fire’s hot flame. In Finland, the special Tippaleipä is rolled out for the Vappen festivities, which spark large street festivals. A light and lemony batter is deep-fried and dusted with powdered sugar, and served with a fermented lemon soda.


The 17th century English practice of mothering Sunday fell during Christian Lent, and is one possible root of our modern celebration today. The day was set aside for mothers, and the entire workforce would return home to observe it. But it was American Anna Jarvis who created the first official day in 1914 when she handed out 500 white carnations to mothers attending a church service. 

Although we’ve adapted the practice, The Floristry has continued the sentiment. The Mother Wild Gift Set is a gift of the senses. An ode to the maternal nature of the earth and our mothers within it, it includes an exclusive new floral tea, natural scented candle and herbaceous smudge stick – curated with the empowerment and deep wisdom of our mothers in mind. 

For more ways to celebrate, Linea Nigra: An Essay on Pregnancy and Earthquakes is a moving personal meditation weaving in cultural figureheads like Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti. 

To celebrate May Day, The Floristry collaborated with artist Valeria Ganzman to create this season’s illustrated message cards. Receive one of the artists floral illustrations free with any order until 18th May.


In late spring, tender seedlings are planted safely with the knowledge that winter frosts have passed. It’s also time to replenish your larder, as gathering nature’s fruits is a welcome tradition. Infuse lilacs into a honeyed cordial. Or head into the ancient woodland, to forage for wild garlic. Hawthorne, or Chinese Haw, is universally thought to aid the heart. In TCM, its berries can ward off cardio disease, and western herbalism uses its blossoms to heal and strengthen the vital organ.


Venture outside in the predawn hours, away from the haze of city lights, and you might just be rewarded with the luminant shower of Eta Aquariid meteors. Often visible between April 19 to about May 28 each year, but the peak glow is May 5th.

Turning inward, the mother’s gaze is explored in two exhibitions in London. Moments in Time, at the Free Space Project, London brings together Iko-Ọjọ Mercy Haruna’s and Lucy Levene’s series that both take the complexities of motherhood as subject. Indian artist and activist Poulomi Basu brings her powerful new series Fireflies to Autograph, London. The intimate dialogue visualises how matrilineal history is traced through the ‘bloodlines of collective experience’.