May 1, 2012 by

“Maias” – Beltane traditions and rituals in Portugal

Image: The young Maias – young girls dressed in white, with a crown of flowers on their head – Alentejo region (South Portugal).

It’s a spring tradition whose origins are lost in time. Historically, the ritual of the Maias happens on the night of April 30 to May 1. According to the tradition, all the doors and windows of the houses must be adorned with yellow broom (Shrub) flowers and straw dolls. Present in several regions of the country, the tradition reveals different aspects in each, but a common denominator: the yellow broom flowers. In the regions of Trás-os-Montes, northern Portugal (Gallaecia) and Beiras (Central Portugal), these flowers appear associated with chestnuts, as evidenced by the saying “He who does not eat nuts on the 1st May, is cursed by the donkey”. According to tradition, May is the month of donkeys and ritual aims to ward off evil spirits (the ‘May’, the ‘tick’ or the ‘donkey’).

In Tras-os-Montes this ritual coexists with the “Maio Moço” (May-Lad, in English) : young girls decorating a boy (the May-lad) leading to walk down the street to a great uproar, with dancing and singing around him. There are several explanations for the origin of this tradition. One says that Maia would be a rye straw doll and it was customary to dance around it all night on May 1. Another possibility is linked to the origin of the name of the month of May, emerged from Maia, mother of Mercury.

In the region of Extremadura, Maia is a girl adorned with flowers that goes through the village streets with her companions. In the Alentejo region, especially in Beja, the Maias are girls dressed in white, with a crown of flowers on their head, sitting in a chair at the door of the house on the corner of a street or square. However her friends ask passers “one penny for Maya.” In the region of the Algarve is customary to place by the doorstep of the houses rye straw dolls dressed in rags. In the city of Lagos tradition returns every year, with the election of the most beautiful Maia in the city. Source:

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