May 1 traditionally has been celebrated as Beltane by Gaels and Celts; May Day has also been celebrated among Germanic and other pagan cultures. It splits the year between the vernal equinox and summer solstice, and incorporates themes of fertility, and the beginning of summer. May Queens are crowned, and doorways and windows are decorated with flowers. Lighting bonfires is believed to bestow special protective powers over livestock and crops, and dances around maypoles festively bedecked with ribbon ritualize the quickening desire symbolized by the turning of the wheel of the year toward the height of summer.
May Day, too, is International Workers’ Day, observed in many countries around the world – including Russia, land of my ancestors, in honor of the international labor movement.
To honor all of these traditions, we work in our garden and till the soil we’ve coddled all spring. Chard, beets, and herbs like cilantro, mint, basil, and parsley burgeon in the strong sun. B. and I dig and harvest until we’re covered with sweat, a joyous labor done in remembrance – always – of my beloved mother, who adored working in the garden and being in nature, and in celebration of life.