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At Plantlife, there is a buzz of activity brewing as the 1st of May approaches. No Mow May is our biggest campaign – calling on all parts of society to join in a national movement to create thriving green spaces. 

We focus the campaign on May because it’s in May that the flowering season really gets going. Leaving areas of grass unmown in May lets the flowers multiply, better supporting wildlife over the summer. We might be the ones driving No Mow May today, but the seasonal relevance of May 1st has roots much deeper than any modern campaign can claim. 

White bell like flowers - Lily of the Valley

Celebrating the Summer 

Calan Mai or Calan Haf (meaning First day of May or First day of Summer) was a special day of celebration for Welsh people. In certain places it still is. This festival has ancient origins, sharing cultural roots with May Day, Beltane and the European Walpurgis Night. Regardless of their differences, these festivals are united in a shared celebration of the returning sunshine. The arrival of the sun encourages plant growth, and therefore carries the promise of plentiful food. 

During Calan Mai, people would traditionally dance, sing, and feast to celebrate the summer after a cold and barren winter. The village green (‘Twmpath chwarae’) would be officially opened, where people would gather to dance, perform and play sports. ‘Twmpath’ refers to a mound that would be prepared on the green. This would be decorated with branches of oak trees, and a fiddler or harpist would sit upon it, playing music in the evening sun. 

The Significance of the Seasons 

Our ancestors were deeply connected to nature’s phases. So much so that important dates in the seasonal calendar were considered sacred and even magic. Many of the festivities and traditions of Calan Mai are based in spirituality and botanical folklore. 

On Ysprydnos (May eve, one of the Welsh ‘spirit nights’, when the veil between this world and the next is said to be thinner) locals would collect branches and flowers to decorate their homes, celebrating and welcoming growth and fertility. Fires would be burned to ward off harmful spirits, and young men would place bunches of rosemary tied with white ribbon on the windowsills of those they admired. 

The festival also marks a special point in the agricultural calendar. This is the time that Welsh farmers would turn their herds out to pasture. These kinds of customs remind us that, until fairly recently, a knowledge of how plants, animals, and landscapes change with the seasons was deeply engrained in cultural norms.  

Hawthorn flowers

Reconnecting with the Seasons 

Nowadays, with central heating, electricity and food readily available all year-round, we’ve become detached from the turn of the planet. We observe and experience the seasons passing, but for many, harsh winters are nothing more than an inconvenience (although this is far from true for everyone). It’s hard for us to imagine the enormous significance the start of summer had, and continues to have, on people who rely directly on the land for their survival.  

Remembering Calan Mai and engaging with movements like No Mow May allow us to reconnect with the seasons. They remind us to tune into the habits of the Earth and become familiar again with the blooms and busts of nature. It also nurtures our own physical and mental wellbeing. Although we might forget it sometimes, we are creatures who have evolved in a world that changes with the seasons. When we appreciate how reliant we are on our planet and everything it provides us it becomes clear that the start of summer really is something worth singing and dancing for. 

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