From dancing around the Maypole to special foods eaten on this day, there are many fun and exciting traditions to celebrate this springtime holiday. Learn about some of the most popular May Day traditions from different countries and cultures below.
What do you typically do on May Day? Celebrate the May Day tradition with a dance around the maypole or any other fun ideas on the list below. Also known as Beltane, May Day is on May first, and is traditionally a time to celebrate spring, the freshly sprouting seeds, and the beautiful landscape. It’s a holiday rich in tradition and rooted in agriculture that has been celebrated for thousands of years. Because on the first of May, colorful, fragrant flowers are in bloom everywhere; the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and life is fresh and filled with new hope. Whether you enjoy May Day traditions like gifting loved ones with baskets of flowers or leis, dancing around the maypole, or prefer something more low-key–there’s no wrong way to celebrate May Day. Here are 20 May Day celebration ideas to get you started. You might also enjoy this list of fun spring activities for kids and adults.
What is May Day?
May Day is a holiday celebrated for centuries all over the world on the first of May or May Day Eve. Also known as Beltane, May Day is one of the cross-quarter days, or midpoint sabbat festivals, that falls between the spring equinox and the summer solstice within the Wheel of the Year. Commonly, people celebrate the full return of spring on May Day. And like several other holidays, most of the May Day traditions celebrated today began in the early days of agriculture.
20 May Day Celebration Ideas from Around the World
Some of the most common May Day traditions include dancing around the maypole, crowning a May Queen, making flower crafts, and giving flowers to loved ones. So here are some fun things to do for May Day to celebrate on your own or with your family, friends, students, school, or community.
1. Wash your Face and Hands in the Morning Dew
Go outside early in the morning on the first of May (and the days that follow) to wash your face in the morning dew. An old Irish saying tells it like so, “The plainest girl will be beautiful if she rises early on May Day and bathes her face in the morning dew at sunrise.” Washing one’s hands and walking barefoot in the morning dew were also said to bring many positive benefits. And the morning dew was believed to cure ills and deliver all sorts of other benefits if the person dared to roll naked in it. So, give it a try! What have you got to lose?
2. Kick Off Your Shoes and Go Barefoot
May Day marks the time of year when many children would go barefoot for the first time. Even adults would take their shoes off for longer than just a walk in the morning dew after May first. So kick off your shoes, allow your feet to be free to connect with the ground they tread upon, and root your spirit deeply into the Earth.
3. Dancing Around the Maypole
May Day is a celebrated event worldwide, and one of the most common and popular May Day traditions is dancing around the maypole. This classic springtime tradition began as a pagan fertility ritual, but it has become a staple of May Day celebrations in many countries across the globe.
If you’re unfamiliar, a maypole is a tall pole with colorful ribbons or streamers attached to the top. Traditionally, people join together to dance around the maypole, weaving the ribbons in and out. The Maypole dance symbolizes the union of male and female energy and, interestingly enough, the coming together of springtime fertility.
While the Maypole’s brightly colored ribbons represent the lengthening days as summer approaches, the Maypole dance creates a multi-colored pattern that creeps steadily down the pole until the dancers reverse their steps and undo the ribbons.
When you don’t have a maypole handy, you can easily make one using a pole or broomstick. Tie streamers or ribbons of different colors around the pole, then have everyone take hold of a ribbon and dance around it in a circle. Weave the ribbons in and out to create a pretty pattern as you dance, as shown in the photograph of the Maypole below.
4. Make Spring Flower Crowns
Make flower crowns to wear as a part of your May Day celebrations. Flower crowns are traditional attire for children coming of age dancing around the Maypole, but they look gorgeous on kids and adults at any spring (or summer) festival. There are several fun and easy ways to make a flower crown with fresh or faux flowers. Click the link to learn how to make a flower crown with faux flowers. Or make them with paper using our printable templates. And if you’d rather use fresh flowers, look at this list of fresh flower crafts where we have a few gorgeous flower DIY crown tutorials that make celebrating this May Day Tradition easy.
5. Celebrate Lei Day on May Day!
In Hawaii, May Day is Lei Day! It is a celebration of the Hawaiian culture and the spirit of Aloha. A May King and Queen are selected to represent each Hawaiian island, schools put on plays, and people come together to dance the luau in parks and other communities to celebrate May Day.
On Lei Day, children and adults gift fresh flower leis to family and friends to celebrate spring. Another fun idea is to make and give felt flower lei necklaces.
There is also a famous song and luau dance performed to celebrate May. And here are a few of the lyrics, “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii, garlands of flowers everywhere, all of the colors in the rainbow, maidens with blossoms in their hair.”
You can see the “May Day is Lei Day” song and luau dance performed by members of the global Hula ʻOhana at the Lei Day Hōʻike and hear the rest of the lyrics in the video below. Learn more about Lei Day and its history–> HERE.
6. Give Flowers to Your Loved Ones
One of the most enduring May Day traditions is giving flowers to your loved ones. Gifting flowers is a popular May Day tradition in many countries, including the United States, France, Germany, Ireland, and Italy. If you want to stick with tradition, choose a flower type traditionally associated with May Day.
In the United States, that flower is the lily of the valley. In France, it’s the Hawthorne blossom; in Italy, it’s the Margherita daisies. And, on the Islands of Hawaii, flower leis are made, given, and worn around the neck on May Day.
But if you are not a stickler for tradition, any flower will make a great gift for celebrating May Day. Whatever type of flower you choose, giving them to your loved ones is a simple way to show them how much you care. Plus, it’s a great way to enjoy the beauty of springtime.
7. Make May Day Baskets
Another popular May Day tradition is making May Day baskets. This May Day tradition is common in many European countries–particularly Germany and Switzerland. It’s also becoming popular in the United States, where people often fill these baskets with flowers and other small gifts.
Making May Day baskets is a great way to express your creativity and a lot of fun for kids and adults. So, if you’re looking for a May Day tradition that even toddlers can make and everyone will enjoy, making May Day baskets is a great option.
If you want to join in on the fun, all you need is some paper, scissors, and glue. Then, you can let your creativity run wild as you make a May Day basket to place flowers in. Waldorf teachers roll up wet-on-wet watercolor paintings in the shape of a cone with a finger-knit handle (as shown in the photograph with the May Day poem below). You can put the flowers inside a baggie with some water to keep them fresh. But you can fashion your May Day basket any way you wish.
8. Deliver May Day Baskets
Once you make flower baskets, invite the kids to deliver May Day baskets to family, friends, and neighbors. Hang them on the neighbor’s doorknobs or drop them off on doorsteps as a fun way to send springtime greetings and say–happy Spring! At my daughter’s Waldorf school, it’s traditional for kindergarteners to visit retirement communities and nursing homes to deliver flowers and sing spring songs to bring the spirit of spring into the hearts of the aging community. And sometimes, they also visit the homes of neighbors that live close to the school. So, deliver a few May Day flower baskets to your neighbors or your local retirement home if you feel up to it on the first of May.
9. Decorate Your Home with Flowers and Flower Crafts
Another May Day tradition is “Bringing in the May,” or gathering cuttings of flowering trees for your home to weave flower garlands, wreaths, and other crafts. And that makes it the perfect time of year to decorate your front door, home, and even your livestock (or pets) with fresh flowers. So invite children to gather wildflowers and flowers from your backyard or garden, or grab some from the local florist to fill your house with spring flowers. This is common in many European countries, such as Britain (England), Ireland, Germany, and Switzerland.
It’s also popular in the United States, where people often hang garlands of flowers around their front doors. If you want to decorate your home for May Day, try using flowers traditionally associated with this holiday, such as lilies of the valley, Hawthorne blossoms, or Margherita daisies. And, if you are looking for flower craft ideas you can make to celebrate May Day, look at the list of ideas in the next section.
10. Make Flower Crafts In Celebration of May Day
Get creative with flower decorations and flower crafts with any of the great ideas on the list below. Making flower crafts is a fun May Day tradition and a great way to celebrate May Day with kids. Once finished, feel free to use them to decorate your home.
Make a May Day wreath for your front door, or weave a beautiful May Day garland to hang inside your home. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at making a maypole or a maypole craft. Traditionally, fresh flowers are used to make crafts on May Day, but making flower crafts with felt or paper can also be fun. Here’s a list of Flower arts and crafts you can try at home or in the classroom:
- Fresh Flower Nature Crafts (photo below)
- How to Make a Flower Crown
- Felt Flowers on Twig Stems
- How to Make a Felt Flower Lei Necklace
- Flower Painting Ideas
- Shell Daisy Craft
- Fresh Flower Suncatcher Crafts
- Fingerprint Flower Glass Magnets
- How to Make Fingerprint Flower Necklaces and Keychains
11. Plant Spring Flowers in your Yard or Garden
If you haven’t already done so, May Day is a great time of year to plant spring flowers around your home and garden. So head to your local nursery to pick up some flowers or seed pack trays, and invite children and other family and friends to join you. And, if you need a little help, here’s a beginning gardening tutorial that makes it easy to plant flowers organically in your yard or garden with or without children.
12. Fly a Kite to Celebrate May Day
Flying a kite is a popular May Day tradition in many countries, including the United States, China, and India. If you want to join in on the fun, you only need a kite and a little wind. Then, let your kite soar high into the sky. Learn how to make a kit, fly a kite, and keep everyone safe and happy in How to Fly a Kite.
Flying a kite is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise. Plus, it’s a lot of fun for the kids to do. So, if you’re looking for May Day celebration ideas from around the world that everyone can enjoy, flying a kite is a great option.
13. Play May Day Games
Another popular May Day tradition is playing games. Playing May Day games is common on May first in many European countries, particularly Germany and Switzerland. Games are also popular in the United States, where people often play them at May Day celebrations. If you want to join in on the fun, there are several May Day games to choose from.
One popular game for children is the Maypole Dance. This game is played by dancing around a Maypole while holding onto ribbons or streamers attached to the top of the pole. Another popular game is called May Day Basket, similar to Easter egg hunts. In this game, people hide baskets filled with flowers and other small gifts around their homes or neighborhoods. Then, others must find the baskets and return them to the May Day celebration.
14. Eat Traditional May Day Foods
Another traditional thing to do for May Day is to eat cakes and other special foods. In Sweden, for example, it’s common to eat a type of flavored porridge called havregröt. This dish is made with oats, milk, and sugar and can be served plain or with fruit.
In the Czech Republic, a sweet treat called May Day cake is often enjoyed on this holiday. This cake is made with yeast dough and filled with fruit or jam.
And in the United States, delivering a May Day basket on this holiday is traditional. This basket is typically filled with flowers–but can sometimes contain candy and other small gifts. It’s then hung on the doorknob of a friend or neighbor as a surprise.
15. Have a May Day Picnic
Another popular May Day tradition is having a picnic. Going on a picnic is a common way to celebrate May Day in many countries, including the United States, France, and Italy. Gather food and a blanket if you want to enjoy the fun. Then, find a spot outdoors and enjoy a relaxing meal with your friends or family.
Having a picnic is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and the company of your loved ones. Plus, it’s a great excuse to eat some delicious food. So, if you’re looking for a May Day tradition that everyone can enjoy, having a picnic is a great option.
16. Enjoy a May Faire Celebration
Go to a May Faire to celebrate May Day! Communities worldwide have carnivals and festivals on or around May first, often featuring traditional activities such as dancing the Maypole and other traditional May Day crafts and activities.
Our daughter’s Waldorf school (Blue Oak Public Charter School) puts on a May Faire, complete with a gorgeous Maypole dance to celebrate May Day, and we love to celebrate spring with our community. There are booths where you can make traditional spring crafts, a bake sale, and local vendors selling their gorgeous creations. So join us if you are a resident of Chico, CA. If not, check your local listings for a May Fair near you to enjoy the spring festivities!
17. Host or Attend a Bonfire to Celebrate Beltane
Another popular May Day tradition is having a bonfire. Hosting or attending a May Day bonfire is traditional in many European countries, particularly Ireland, Germany, and Switzerland. It’s also popular in the United States, where people often gather around bonfires to sing and dance to celebrate May Day.
In the Middle Ages, the Gaelic people celebrated the festival of Beltane on May Day. In Gaelic, Beltane means “Day of Fire.” Historically, people created large bonfires and danced at night to celebrate the sown fields as they began to sprout. And in some parts of Ireland today, May Day Eve is still considered Bonfire Night.
If you want to join in on the fun, learn how to build a campfire or bonfire and keep everyone safe in how to build a campfire. Next, ask someone to strum a guitar or a ukulele, have a spring sing-along, and enjoy the warmth of the flames. Besides, hosting or attending a bonfire is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and the company of your loved ones. Plus, it’s a great excuse to roast some marshmallows!
18. Sing and Dance to Celebrate The Spring
Another May Day celebration idea from around the world is singing and dancing. And while the type of dance and song may vary, they each are a celebration of spring. Singing and dancing is a common traditional way to celebrate May Day in Scandinavia, the UK, Germany, and the Czech Republic. It’s also popular in the United States and Ireland, where people often gather around bonfires to sing and dance. If you want to join in on the fun–all you need is some music and the willingness to get up and dance. Then, you can enjoy May Day to the fullest by singing and dancing your heart out.
19. Tell May Day Stories or Read Spring Books
Another fun thing to do on May Day is to tell stories and read books about spring. Look at this list of spring books for kids to gather ideas. Or, learn about May Day in Hawaii and why it is one of the most celebrated traditions in Kalei’s May Day in Hawai’i Nei.
20. May Day is also celebrated as International Workers’ Day
In modern times, the first of May is called Workers’ Day or International Workers’ Day in many countries. It is a day that commemorates the historical struggles and gains made by workers and the labor movement throughout the industrial age. While in the United States and Canada, a similar observance, known as Labor Day, occurs on the first Monday of September.
20 May Day Traditions And Celebration Ideas You Can Try at Home
May Day is a traditional holiday celebrated in many countries around the world. While the holiday has many different origins, the common theme is the celebration of spring. Do you have any fun May Day traditions? We’d love to hear how YOU celebrate May Day at home. Please share them in the comments below! We’d love to hear about how you and your family celebrate spring on this special day. Whether you make a Maypole, go for a barefoot walk in the morning dew, make flower crowns, have a picnic, fly a kite, celebrate Beltane with a bonfire, or do something else, we can’t wait to hear about it. Happy May Day!
Learn more about Rhythms of Play–> HERE.