One of the two great fire festivals, May Eve was always very Bacchanalian in content. As I have remarked, country people are very earthy and close to nature; May Eve epitomised these rural qualities.
The Circle was 18 feet, and the hay stooks were placed around the outside at the Quarters. Green branches were laid to form a pathway to the Circle. A fire burned in its centre as well as on the hilltops all around.
That year's May Queen was not present. She would be crowned the following morning and had to be what is politely called a "maiden". It was thought that if she went to the Belfire, she might not be "virgo intacta" the next day. So she had to stay at home!
Garlands were set up on the May pole during the daylight hours in readiness for the next day; the garlands the May Queen's attendants would wear were also made at this time. May Eve and May Day are very busy times from a Craft point of view.
The Sabbat cakes were special: round, not crescent shaped and we ate sponge finger-type cakes as well. We wore our green robes.
Flowers were abundant, and both Tines were decorated with many blossoms. Sometimes pets were brought in to be blessed by the Elements.
We cast the Circle and called the Quarters in the normal way, and immediately afterwards, the Cakes and Wine ceremony was held, whereupon spiral and back to back dances were performed--all very jolly!
Sometimes we jumped the fire, and if a couple leaped together they were considered betrothed. If a single girl jumped alone, it was believed she would be fertile, not a very desirable attribute at Beltane!
When the fire started to die down, or when everyone thought it time, a doorway was cut into the circle, and all the young ones went off "a-maying." They returned at dawn, bringing fresh greenery for May Day. The girls all bathed their faces with dew. Then, the stooks were moved to the green where the May pole was, and all went home to get a few hours of sleep before the May Day festivities began.
I would like to make one small comment on this very modern attitude towards young people and their morals during Beltane celebrations. When I was a young girl, I never saw a farmhand marry until his girlfriend was pregnant. In later years I asked my mother about this; she said that the idea seemed to be that a girl had to prove herself fertile before marriage. Because country people needed children during those days (country children worked very hard), a man and a girl needed to assure themselves of a family before the married.
From West Country Wicca, A Journal of the Old Religion, Rhiannon Ryall)