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Calan Mai – May 1, 2023

Calan Mai, also known as Calan Haf, is the annual celebration of the first day of summer in Welsh tradition, which is held —as hinted at by the name— on the first day of May. This is a significant day for celebration and festivities in Wales, as several superstitions and rituals dating back to druidic times are still maintained to this day. May Eve celebrations begin with bonfires. The night before (Welsh: Nos Galan Haf) is regarded as a ‘Ysbrydnos’ or “spirit night,” when spirits are out and about, making divination possible. Until the middle of the 19 Century, South Wales had the annual practice of setting bonfires to commemorate this anniversary. Calan Mai is similar to Beltane and other May Day celebrations in Europe.

History of Calan Mai

Calan Mai’s history is similar to those of May Day, Beltane Fire Festival, and Walpurgis Night. This was the day, according to ancient beliefs, when the boundaries between this world and the world of spirits faded, which led to a wonderful celebration of everything wicked. As evil spirits allegedly dislike fumes and loud noises, the custom of burning massive bonfires and celebrating loudly became a staple of the occasion. Calan Mai was also a prime time for divination, given its connection with the supernatural in Welsh mythology. The first of May, then, was just the right moment to find out the identity of your true love. The day is also characterized by the hawthorn decorations used to embellish the exterior of homes.

Calan Mai was a celebration of the approaching spring as well as the start of a new agricultural cycle. Ancient Welsh farmers rejoiced, for it meant the beginning of a period of bountiful harvests. It was also the time of year when animals came out of hibernation. As a result, some farmers would celebrate the day their cattle went out to the forest to begin their seasonal grazing. In ancient times, the first day of May was celebrated as the beginning of a new spring, the end of a difficult winter, and the coming of balmy weather. People would frequently participate in dancing, singing, and feasting events to celebrate the joy of summer warmth.

The Calan Mai Festival combines all of these historical customs and is still celebrated in Wales the way it always has.

Calan Mai timeline

1610
The Poem called Calan Mai

The unnamed poet sought to convey this sense of human delight and sexual emancipation by placing it within the framework of the seasons' rotation.

1831
The Protection against Evil Spirit

William Howells writes that in Carmarthenshire, protection is provided by placing the branches of the mountain ash tree over the doors of dwellings.

1909
The Spirit Nights

The 'Beltane flames' are usually lit on May Eve, although they might also be lit on the first, second, or third of May.

18th century
The Earliest May Carol Appears

May carols first appeared in manuscripts form in the 17th Century and took until the 18th Century to appear in local almanacs and ballad leaflets.

Calan Mai FAQs

What purpose is Calan Mai?

Calan Mai was regarded as the official start of summer when plant life had completed its yearly regeneration.

Which date is Calan Mai?

Calan Mai is observed on May 1st. In certain locations, celebrations for this day will begin at midnight on April 30 and will go until the evening of May 1.

What is the distinction between Walpurgis Night and Calan Mai?

Calan Mai’s roots, as well as the rituals and traditions connected with it, are intimately related to May Day, Walpurgis Night, and the Beltane Fire Festival.

How to Observe Calan Mai

  1. Decorate your home

    On May Eve, locals gathered branches and flowers to adorn their homes and celebrate growth and fertility. You could do the same as part of the celebrations.

  2. Participate in summer dancing

    On May mornings, singers would visit households, accompanied by harpists or fiddlers, to share their seasonal glee with the townspeople. They would be rewarded with food, wine, and maybe money if their singing was deemed worthy.

  3. Try the food

    Metheglin or mead were popular drinks during the Calan Mai celebrations. It was often prepared with herbs such as woodruff, a sweet-smelling plant commonly used in traditional winemaking.

5 Facts About Wales

  1. A land of castles

    Wales boasts more castles per square mile than any other country on the planet.

  2. The names of the towns are long

    Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, a Welsh hamlet has the world's second-longest place name.

  3. Mount Everest named after a Welshman

    Sir George Everest was the surveyor who first surveyed Mount Everest and gave it the name Everest.

  4. Highest mountain in Wales

    At 1,085 meters, Snowdon (or Yr Wyddfa) is Wales' highest peak (3,560 ft).

  5. Most visited waterfall

    The most visited waterfall in the U.K. is Swallow Falls near Betws-y-coed.

Why Calan Mai is Important

  1. It kick starts the summer season

    A lot of activities would take place on May Day. The cows would be put out for pasture and households would relocate from their valley (Hendre) dwellings to their summer pastures on higher ground (the Hafod).

  2. It brings good luck

    Carol singers would visit each home in May, allegedly bringing good fortune to every family they visited. They would wish them a fruitful summer after the hardships of winter.

  3. Ward off evil spirit

    Back in druidic times, the first of May was connected with fire lighting. Bonfires would ward off evil spirits, ensure a successful summer, and provide an opportunity for cleansing and illness prevention — a more intense form of spring cleaning!

Calan Mai dates

YearDateDay
2023May 1Monday
2024May 1Wednesday
2025May 1Thursday
2026May 1Friday
2027May 1Saturday
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International Doodle Dog Day
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