May Day was last Friday, but it’s not too late to celebrate the fresh and breezy month of May and the ushering in of a warm and beautiful spring! The Celts loved the change in seasons and they celebrated with the Beltane festival. There was plenty of food and drink, of course. But like other ancient cultures, the seasonal festival reflected the Celts’ deep spiritual intertwining with the natural world around them.
In early Irish lore a number of significant events took place on Beltane, which long remained the focus of folk traditions and tales in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. As did other pre-Christian Celtic peoples, the Irish divided the year into two main seasons. Winter and the beginning of the year fell on November 1 (Irish: Samain) and midyear and summer on May 1 (Irish: Beltaine). These two junctures were thought to be critical periods when the bounds between the human and supernatural worlds were temporarily erased; on May Eve witches and fairies roamed freely, and measures had to be taken against their enchantments.
The ancient Celts began their festival on April 30th, the night before May Day. They celebrated the final goodbye to the dark, frigid nights and welcomed the warmth and rebirth of a new season. As with other seasonal Celtic festivals, fire was an integral part of the occasion. Fires were lit in honor of Bel, the god of light and healing. According to ancient legend,
… each year at Beltane, the tribal leaders would send a representative to the hill of Uisneach, where a great bonfire was lit. These representatives would each light a torch, and carry it back to their home villages. Once the fire reached the village, everyone would light a torch to take into their houses and use to light their hearths. This way, the fire of Ireland was spread from one central source throughout the entire country.
Another interesting ritual with fire included driving the cattle between the smoke from two large balefires in order to bless and purify them from disease. And of course, the fires would be used for cooking delicious food around which revelers would gather and feast.
So while you may or may not choose to celebrate with fire and herds of cattle, you can definitely rejoice in the coming of spring throughout the month of May and pay homage to the ancient Celts by feasting on some of their ancient foods. Below is a recipe for a delicious spiced wine that uses woodruff leaves, a favorite of the Celts, to obtain its unique flavor. The woodruff is said to banish the winter chill and welcome the spring. Add some of our other Bon Appetit Wednesday recipes to make it a full Celtic meal: Oatcakes, Asparagus with Curry Butter and Nettle Pudding.
Cheers and slàinte mhor a h-uile là a chi ‘s nach fhaic! (Great health to you every day that I see you and every day that I don’t).
Woodruff Spiced Wine
- One bottle of a light white wine
- A half ounce of dried woodruff
- A bit of sugar, if desired
- Mix together all of the ingredients, cover and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 8 hours so the wine can be infused with the spice and sugar.
- Serve with your Celtic feast!
 Bringing in May: Celtic Recipes For Your Own May Day Feast. (n.d.). Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.motherearthliving.com/food-for-health/bringing-in-the-may.aspx?PageId=1
 Wigington, P. (n.d.). What is the Bale Fire? Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/beltanecustomandfolklore/p/The-Bale-Fire.htm