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May Holidays Asterisks appear next to saintsí names - see Celebrating Saints

May 15 St Dympna
Matron saint of the mentally ill, this obscure 7th century Irish princess has a shrine in Gheel, just east of Antwerp in Belgium, where people have come for centuries seeking healing from mental illness. The whole town is a sort of mental hospital without walls. On Dympna's feast day, there is a procession to the saint's tomb.

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

May 16 St Honoratus
This sixth century Bishop of Amiens is the patron saint of French bakers. Parisian bakers used to honor him on the alleged anniversary of his death with a procession, a high Mass, a banquet and a dance.

Patronize your local bakery or bake something delicious today.

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

St Dympna
St. Dympna

May 17 Grunnlovsdag, Norwegian Independence Day
Just like May 5th offers an opportunity to celebrate Mexico, so does the 17th of May provide an occasion for Norwegian pride. Usually celebrated in Norway and Norwegian neighborhoods with parades of people in national costume, you can also imagine lots of other ways to celebrate including Norwegian feasts and a serving of eggedosis, eggnog spiked with brandy.

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

May 18 Trinity Sunday
The Sunday after Pentecost is set aside by Catholics for honoring the doctrine of the Trinity, the three deities in one: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Urlin comments wryly that "perhaps the identification of this day with a dogma, rather than an event, or a personage, has tended to discourage the growth of folk-lore around it. At any rate, there is a certain dearth of Trinity Sunday customs recorded by English writers."

I have found a few. In Russia, this is the day when people got out and collect birch branches and picnic outside. The same is true in Yugoslavia. The floors of the churches are covered with grass and flowers. People weave wreathes during the morning services, then take them home to hang as symbols of blessing beneath icons or above doors.

There is a folk belief in Lorraine, France, that on Trinity Sunday you can see three suns rise. Pansies are the flowers used to decorate for this holy day in Saxony, where they are called Trinity flowers, perhaps because they bloom at this time or because of their tripartite structure.

Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Woman's Press 1937
Urlin, E, Festivals, Holy Days and Saints Days

Flag of Norway

May 19 St Peter Celestine
This solitary hermit, who renounced the world at the age of twenty after a youth spent in piety and acquisition of learning, eventually became Pope but resigned after four months because he found his new office irksome. His successor put him in prison, where he died ten months later. For unclear reasons, perhaps because of his love of learning, he is the patron of bookbinders.

Make a book or buy an especially beautifully made book.

May 19 Start of Rusalka Week
Mary B Kelly relates that the Bulgarians called the week after Trinity Rusalka Nedela or Rusalka Week. The Rusalki arrived on Monday, bringing with them Rusalka Sickness, which seems to be a kind of lovesickness. This was the start of a week of danger and various activities were forbidden. Women were not allowed to spin or weave, sleep during the day or wash their hair, particularly on Monday and Wednesday. Garlic and walnut leaves were worn for protection. During the week, girls gathered flowers and made bouquets for the men they loved and participated in a circle dance. Also during the week, a special group of men called Koluchari would try to help people who were sick by singing songs, and, at the end of the ritual, broke ceramic pots to break the spell (of lovesickness?).Kelly suggests that the Rusalka brought love and sexuality into the village and that women were not allowed to attend to their regular tasks because they were supposed to celebrate sexuality and fertility. At the end of this special week of license, the Koluchari broke the spell and all returned to normal.

Kelly, Mary B, "Bulgarian Rituals," excerpted in Goddessing Regenerated, Issue #10, (PO Box 269, Valrico FL 33595). From the book, Goddess Embroideries of Eastern Europe, (available for $25 from Studiobooks, Box 23, McLean NY 13102)

May 19 Fire God
On the 14th day of the 4th lunar moon (approximately the full moon), the Chinese celebrate the Fire God.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

May 19 Full Moon in Scorpio

May 21 Fire-Walking Festival
In certain villages in northern Greece, on the feast day of Saint Constantine, the Anastenarides (the groaners) dance barefoot on hot coals for hours at a time. It is said that the Saint protects those men who he summons to this dance.

After the dance, a black bull is sacrificed on the steps of the church and the raw, still-steaming meat is distributed to all. The strips of hide are given out as well to be made into sandals.

According to Blackburn, these rituals “are opposed by the Church as survivals from the ancient worship of Dionysos, the god of wild nature in such manifestations as plant growth, wine, and ecstasy, but are stoutly defended by their practitioners as Christian defences against the Devil.” [p. 216]

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Rufus, Anneli,
The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

May 21 St Elena
While discussing the link between bread and religion that runs so deep in Italy, Waverley Root comments on a ritual that takes place at Quartu Sant'Elena, near Cagliari in Sardinia on May 21st. The people dress in traditional costumes and make an offering to St. Elena of eight large loaves of bread, which contain wine and honey, and are sweetened with jam.

Root, Waverley, The Food of Italy, Scribner 1971

May 22 St Rita
This 14th century Italian woman is the patron saint of the unhappily married, due to her sufferings at the hands of a vicious husband, and after his death in a vendetta, her two sons who had inherited their father’s tempers. Only after their deaths, was she free to enter an Augustinian convent and dedicate her life to ministering to the sick.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

May 22 Bear Waking Day
In Norway, this is the day the bear wakes from hibernation and leaves the den.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

May 22 T'ai Shan
On the 17th day of the fourth lunar month, the Chinese honor the goddess of Midwifery, the Daughter of the god of the Sacred Mountain. She is invoked at births along with her four attendants: the Ladies of Posterity, Fecundity, She Who Activates Birth and She Who Brings the Child.

May 22 Corpus Christi
This Catholic festival, which takes place on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, promotes the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation: that the host consecrated in the Mass becomes the Body of Christ. It was first established by the Council of Vienna in 1311 and really promoted during the Reformation as a demonstration of Catholic solidarity. It features a procession during which the priest displays the host in a monstrance, which is shaped like a sunburst. The whole point is a conspicuous display of pomp and pageantry. This year when it falls so close to summer solstice, the similarities between the two festivals, in symbolism and attitude, are readily apparent.

In France, it is called Fete Dieu or the Feast of God. The priest wears red and gold lavishly embroidered garments. The monstrance is a golden vessel shaped like the sun. It is usually shielded by a canopy of silk and cloth of gold. Streets are scattered with flower petals and householders decorate their homes, often by pasting flower petals on a sheet and hanging them up.

Small altars are created along the roads. In France, they're called reposoirs and are built at crossroads. They are decorated with flowers, garlands and greens and covered with canopies of interwoven boughs. The priest goes around and blesses them. Perhaps this would be a good day for witches and pagans to sponsor Altar Tours, opening our homes for viewing of our altars and shrines. Or maybe we should go out and build a shrine at the nearest crossroad.

Corpus Christi is also a time for plays and pageants (although these were originally associated with Whitsunday). Fantastically dressed performers accompanied the processions and acted out scenes from the Bible and the lives of the saints at stops along the way. In medieval times, each guild sponsored a scene in a grand play showing the whole scheme of Salvation. Some of the dramas were so long they could not be performed in their entirety: the Coventry cycle took two years.

Carol Field describes the way Corpus Christi is celebrated in Spello, Italy, where pwople transform the main street into a carpet of color using flower petals (infiorate). Collecting the flowers takes as long as two weeks. The oldest women are given the job of taking the flowers apart, petal by petal, and separating them by the subtle differences of hue. Pine needles, ivy leaves, camomile and fennel are ground up to make green. Poppies are used for red, broom for yellow and white from daisies. The designs are complicated, and often reproduce famous paintings, usually religious ones. The priest when he emerges from the cathedral holding up the Host walks down the length of flower carpet, and the petals scatter to the breezes. It is a display of beauty and richness that is as ephemeral as it is extravagant.

Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, Morrow 1990

May 23 Tubilustrum
A Roman festival for purifying the trumpets which were carried in battle. Ovid said it honored Vulcan, the divine smith and fire god who had forged the original trumpets.

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

May 23 Lag B'Omer
On Lag B'Omer, 33 days after Passover (which corresponds with spring equinox), American Jews celebrate with hikes in the woods, picnics and archery contests. It sounds quite a bit like the Robin Hood games held on May Day in medieval England; where the mythic character of Robin Hood, was a symbol of male fertility, like the Green Man Robin Hood and Maid Marian are one variation of the May King and Queen.

The Kabbalists celebrated the marriage between heaven and hell by lighting bonfires. Conservative and Orthodox Jews celebrate weddings and attend concerts on this day since these activities are otherwise forbidden during the solemn time of counting the Omer.

Waskow, Arthur, Seasons of Our Joy, Beacon 1982

May 24 Sts Cyril & Methodius
A pair of ninth-century saints who were early missionaries to the Slavs, where they devised an alphabet to represent Slavonic, which had formally been strictly an oral language. Cyril's alphabet is still used to transcribe Russian, Bulgarian and other Slavic languages. They are considered patron saints of Bulgaria.

Celebrate by eating Bulgarian food or listening to Bulgarian music.

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

May 24 St Sarah
Gypsies gather at Arles to honor St Sarah, the patron saint of the gypsies. She is regarded as a companion of the Maries who are honored the following day, along with St Martha; they are sometimes three, sometimes five. The festival features games and horsemanship.

The statue of St. Sara is dressed in new clothes and, after an all night vigil in the crypt, a procession carries her to the beach, where she is carried into the water, surrounded by an honor guard of men carrying tridents.

Isabel Fonseca in Bury Me Standing, her account of gypsy life, describes St Sara as the Egyptian maid of the two Marys, who are Aunts of Jesus. She is also identified with the consort of Shiva, the goddess Kali. Fonseca views her as the Romany Goddess of Fate.

Here’s a well-written description of the festival along with other possible histories for St. Sarah.

May 24 Hamster Memorial Day
This is a holiday I declared in honor of the beloved hamsters that have lived with us for too brief of a time--Zergy, Mr Spottytoes, Alexandra, Gingercream, Peaches--but most especially for Elliott, who loved us so much he came back as a ghost (and is the only ghost I've ever seen!) It is celebrated on the second to the last Saturday in May.

May 24 Bendidia
The festival honoring the Thracian goddess Bendis falls on the 19th day of the Greek lunar month of Thargelion. In Plato's Republic she is depicted wearing a Phyrgian cap, the cloak and short tunic of a huntress, high fur-topped boots and carrying a spear. At the ritual in her honor, women offered her wheat. Monagan says she was a Cappadocian goddess similar to Gaea (the Earth-Mother).

Monaghan, Patricia, The Book of Goddesses and Heroines, Llewellyn 1981

St Rita
St. Rita

May 25 Feast of the Holy Maries
Underlying the worship at Arles of the three Marys of Christian legend (also known as the Three Maries of the Sea) may be an earlier devotion to the Triple Goddess.

May 25 Weather Oracle

If it rain on the 25th, wind shall do much hurt that year;
If the sun shine, the contrary.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

May 25 St Urban
Pope Urban I who died in 230 was supposedly martyred by having a nail driven through his head, thus becoming the patron saint of migraines (it does feel like that!). If you actually suffer from migraines, I recommend eating one to three fresh leaves of the feverfew plant when you first begin to wonder if you're getting a migraine. It's worked for me for the past five years (see my blog entry) and may be as efficacious as prayers to St. Urban.

n Germany, Urban is the patron saint of wine growers (although I wonder if there is some connection here with headaches as well). His day is used to predict the success of the vintage. If it's fine, the wine will be too. In earlier times, his statue was sprinkled on this day with wine if the weather was good, but water if it was not.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999May 26 Psychosavato
On the Saturday before Pentecost, Psychosavato or Decoration Day, Greeks visit cemeteries and decorate the graves with wreaths and flowers. Perhaps this is the original source of Memorial Day. The Rumanians celebrate a similar festival (see Jun 17).

Carlos Ginzburg discusses certain customs that link Pentecost and the dead. In Rumania, during the 17th century, certain women (who called themselves rusalii) fell into trance on Pentecost. When they came to, they said they had spoken with God, the saints, the living and the dead. It seems they were psychopomps, mediating between the living and the dead, the material world and the spirit world. Rusalii also means spirits of the dead and is associated with female water spirits, who were viewed like mermaids, as sirens who seduced men into death by drowning.

Ginzburg citing studies by Nilsson and Ranke says that Pentecost derives from the Rosalia (a Roman rose festival celebrated on June 6th). Roses have long been associated with both love and death.

More recently in the last century, a similar event occurred in a Serbian town. A group of young and old women fell into catalepsy on Pentecost while surrounded by a group of men who performed a frenetic dance. The leader held in his hand a knife adorned with garlic, camomile and other plants and sprayed river water mixed with the juice of chopped herbs on the faces of the women to revive them after their trance. Gifts were set out of people who had recently died or their favorite songs were played.

May 25 La Fetes des Meres
The last Sunday in May is set aside for honoring mothers in France.

Cross of Saintes Maries de la Mer
Cross of Saintes Maries de la Mer

Sainte Sara la Kali
Sainte Sara la Kali

May 26 Memorial Day
The customs of honoring and communicating with the dead around this time (See Lemuria (May 9), Pentecost (May 19) and Trinity Sunday (May 26)), suggest an ancient origin for this festival. The American holiday derived from an incident on April 25, 1866 when four young Southern women, after scattering magnolia blossoms on the graves of the men they had lost in the Civil War, walked over to the other side of the graveyard where the Union soldiers were buried and decorated their graves as well. Sympathetic reports of this act of reconciliation encouraged communities all over America to hold their own "memorial" services, usually including a parade, a patriotic oration and a community picnic.

Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Toor, Frances,
Festivals and Folkways of Italy, Crown 1953

May 26 Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Contest
The last Monday in May is the date of the annual cheese-rolling contest at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire. For more information, check out this comprehensive web site:

May 28 Tomato Release Day
Another very local holiday custom comes from Gloucester, Massachusetts. One of my readers, Tara Kelley, informed me of Tomato Release Day, the day that all the local nurseries release their tomatoes and basil plants, a verb that suggests they set them free to roam or feature them for first viewing. Actually Tomato Release Day is linked to the last frost day for this area.

May 29 Ambarvalia
On this festival, Roman farmers processed around the boundaries of their fields three times, taking a bull, sheep and pig with them on their rounds. Then the animals were sacrificed. Libations were poured to Janus and Jupiter and a long invocation was addressed to Mars, who was a god of agriculture before he was a god of War. Ceres and Bacchus were also addressed. No work was done; the day was devoted to singing, dancing and feasting.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

US Sailor

May 30 St Joan
St Joan is listed for three different dates in May: May 12, May 14 and May 30. This peasant girl heard the voices of St Michael, St Catherine and St Margaret, advising her to help the King of France recover his throne from the English. She led a small army which was successful at first. When she was captured by the English, she was tried and condemned to death as a witch. Facing her funeral pyre, she recanted and said that she had lied about the voices coming from God. She was sentenced to life imprisonment and told she must wear women's clothing from now on. A few days later, after suffering "great wrongs and violence," at the hands of her captors, she put on men's clothing again and shortly thereafter (on May 30) at the age of 19 was burned to death at Rouen.

The bishop who presided over the trial did not have Church sanction and refused Joan the right to appeal to the Pope (an inalienable right). The Church stepped in after she was killed and began an appeals process that culminated in declaring her innocent, giving her martyr status and condemning both the trial as illegal and the bishop for violating Church law and murdering an innocent woman. [Thanks to my reader, Tara Kelly, a historian, for correcting my earlier misperceptions about Joan.]

In the Vodou tradition, Ogun, the God of Iron, a warrior deity, is celebrated on St Joan's day.

For more information on St Joan of Arc, see this comprehensive and interesting website:

Tickle, Phyllis, Graces We Remember: Sacred Days of Ordinary Time, Loyola Press 2004

Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc

May 31 Stellamaris, Feast of the Queen of Heaven
Originally a festival of Isis, as matron of sailors, and Queen of Heaven. One hundred and ten Roman women celebrated with a feast at which they offered Juno and Diana seats at the table and special breads.

In 1954, Pope Pius XII declared this day a feast of the Queenship of Mary, who is also known as the Queen of Heaven. In 1969 it was changed to The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Frances Toor writes about attending the festa of Stella Maris at Camogli in Portofino. The name of the town derives from casa delle mogli (home of the wives) because the husbands were sailors and never home. The ancient Abbey of San Niccolo de Capodimonte contains a painting of the Madonna Stella Maris as she appeared to two sailors in a storm who prayed to her for protection. The festa opened with the oldest fisherman bringing the Madonna a bouquet of flowers. The harbor was filled with boats decorated with flags, branches and flowers. Boat races were held in the afternoon after a Mass and at night the sea was covering with floating boxes of all colors, enclosing lights. The festa concluded with a fireworks show over the water.

Toor, Frances, Festivals and Folkways of Italy, Crown 1953

May 31 Flowers of May
The conclusion of the month of May, during which Catholics honor the goddess Mary. In the Philippines, people celebrate all month-long, bringing bouquets and garlands to churches and electing pretty girls as festival queens and honoring them as they process through the streets surrounded by page boys and flower girls by chanting and singing Hail Marys. The month culminates in a day of torchlight parades, open houses, games and elaborate banquets.

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994What extraordinary events have you been waiting for? Is there something you would like to try, at least once, but it seems too silly or crazy?

Stella Maris
Stella Maris by Joanna Powell Colbert. Used with permission.

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