Preparations for Beltane began with gathering flowers for the Maypole and for wearing on the body and in the hair. Young men went May boughing or May birching, gathering garlands of hawthorn (Mayflower) and rowan (mountain ash) to hang over doorways and windows. On the Isle of Man, the youngest child of a family would gather primroses to throw against the door of the house for protection.
The Beltane celebration honored life over death and celebrated the rebirth of the world. Above all, it was a fertility festival, a symbolic union of the God and Goddess, of the divine masculine and the divine feminine. A young virgin, often dressed in white with a crown of flowers, was chosen to be the Queen of the May. Her consort went by many names, including the Green Man, the May Groom, the May King, and Jack-of-the-Green, often dressed in green and decorated with leaves.
In Scotland, bannocks (or oatcakes), were passed around in a bonnet. One bannock had been blackened by the fire, and the person choosing the blackened bannock became The Fool. It was the hope that all misfortune would henceforth fall on The Fool and no one else. Poor Fool, he also had to jump over the bonfire three times.
May Day morning, the young people would emerge from the woods, perhaps mussed and disheveled, to dance around the Maypole, gaily decorated with colorful ribbons, flowers, leaves and garlands. Flowers were put in baskets and left on doorsteps for those who were too ill or too old to participate in the festival. From that, we get our modern day May baskets.
Beltane was serious business for the Celts. They believed that the wheel of the sky would not turn without their intervention, and they did everything in their power - with their fires, celebrations and rituals - to ensure that summer returned each year.