We are at another cross-quarter, or halfway date between the quarter-days of the year, in this case, between the March equinox and the June solstice. So you can call this the middle of spring or the beginning of summer, according to taste, as discussed at the previous cross-quarter day, the beginning of February.
As with the other cross-quarters, there is some room for choice as to which is the actual Cross-Quarter Day. It may be April 30, May Eve; or it may be May 1, May Day.
May 1 may have the greater weight of tradition behind it, since it was Beltane, a major Celtic festival. Household fires were re-lit from the Beltane bonfire, and cattle were driven out to their summer pasture. The name is actually Bealtaine in Irish, Bealltainn in Scots Gaelic, and Boaldyn in Manx.
(One of the intricacies of the Celtic languages of the northwestern or Gaelic group is that most of the consonants have two forms, “slender,” with the front of the tongue raised toward the hard palate, and “broad,” with the back of the tongue raised toward the soft palate; and in this word the b and n are slender, the l and t broad. To hear a difference like this, listen to yourself saying the l in lick and in milk. In English this difference is not phonemic – it does not make a difference between words – but in Gaelic, and Russian, it is.)
When I first heard of the festival of Beltane, I was surprised, because the only use of that word I had known of was in a book on my parents’ shelves: Beltane the Smith. It was one of the forty romantic novels written between 1907 and 1952 by Jeffery Farnol. Beltane is a fine young fellow who lives in the greenwood, repairs plowshares and axeblades for a living, and knows no one much except a wise old hermit until he ventures forth and meets women, friars, an archer, a hangman, a villainous duke, and discovers that he is the rightful duke himself.
Beltane the Smith has nothing to do with Beltane the festival of May Day. Nor, as I’m sure you know, has “Mayday!” the shout for help, being a simulation of the French “M’aidez!”