May-day, which is generally recognised as the first day of summer, always had a special significance for the people of western Europe and many of the practices and beliefs associated with this once very important occasion still had a great degree of acceptance and credence right up to the last century. It is thought that they were part of a pagan observance, but over the centuries they acquired a Christian identity that made it easier for a devoted people to accept. The use of Holy Water and prayers of invocation during the Blessing of the animals and crop are after all, a readily recognised part of Christian liturgy.It is not so easy, however, to account for the deep rooted fear that people had of the evil influences that were supposed to be abroad on eve of May-day. The hours between sunset on May Eve and sunrise on May Day were dreaded. It was during these hours that the wicked could weave their evil spells almost with impunity and all-night vigils were commonplace in days gone by to prevent visitations from someone or something wishing to render a cow barren or steal her milk. There were many charms and formulae used to overcome the spells and these differed from area to area.
There is no way of knowing how they came about as their origin has been lost in antiquity. In some places a piece of straw from the thatch was burned and scattered around as a protection. If a neighbour"s chimney smoke was seen last thing at night the householder would walk backways into his own home repeating over and over "The butter of that smoke upon my milk". The first water drawn from a spring well before dawn on May Day was believed to be a strong potent charm for either good or evil and householders often stood guard at their wells to make sure that only members of the family would benefit from the early water. Gathering May flowers and scattering them around the house and outhouses on May Day was another practice used to protect the home. This gradually gained a religious connotation and the people would gather flowers on May eve and place them on every window sill of the house, placing it under the protection of Our Lady. It is a beautiful practice that is still observed in many places. Every year a local man Frank Bustard gathers a sackful of flowers and places them on the window sills of his neighbours throughout the town and country. This is a very generous gesture and one that is deeply appreciated. In many parts of the country May Day processions are held to honour Our Lady. May Day is also recognised as Labour Day in many countries.