Human Flower Project


May Day honors workers in Greece, but it also occasions flower picking and wreath making, an old custom from the days when everyone was a worker.


Children in Crete collect flowers to fashion into wreaths, May 1.

Photo: Brent Scheneman

Protomagia is Greek even we can understand. It’s the celebration of May 1st – the peak of spring wildflower season there.

In Crete, and other parts of Greece too, the day draws people out of doors to pick blooms and turn them into wreaths that will hang on and about doorways for the next several weeks.

Effusive blogger Sunny Fotini  writes that Protomagia is a “day off for everybody.” (It’s also the national Labor Day holiday.) “We did what our ancestors did thousands years ago,” writes Sunny. “Celebrate the Mother Nature!”

imageCould these be “Sparta” flowers? A boy on May Day (Protomagia) in Crete

Photo: Brent Scheneman

S/he describes leaving the city for the villages of Amarinthos and Kimi. “We were close to the sea and close to the flowers. Green and blue were the main colors but interrupted by the yellow colour of the Sparta (my favourite wild flower which have an intense sweet smell) and the red of the Paparounes (wild flower too).”

Paparounes are red poppies (Papaver rhoeas) but we’re not so sure about “Sparta.” Here’s a slideshow of yellow Greek wildflowers. Maybe someone can spot Sunny’s reference among them.

The floral wreaths come in all shapes and sizes and decorate thresholds of many kinds: doorknobs of tavernas, lintels above the front doors of homes, church fronts, even the grills of fancy cars and human heads.

Brent Scheneman has a beautiful album of photographs from Armenoi, a village in the western Chania region of Crete, near the northern coast. Especially spectacular is the large wreath of greenery and flowers that is suspended above the public square.


A mammoth wreath decorated with geraniums in Armenoi, Crete


Suspended over the town square on the evening of Protomagia

Photos: Brent Scheneman

This Greek custom is reminiscent of the maggio tradition of Italy and the majka of the Czech Republic, just more floral. Just!

imageA fresh bouquet decorates the front door of a house in Armenoi, Crete, from May 1 to June 24.

Photo: Brent Scheneman

Sunny explains, “May the first is the day that Greeks use to collect flowers and prepare the May flower wreath which hang outside their home door and keep it there until June 24th when the day of Saint John make big fires to burn these flower wreaths. Everybody jumps over these fires. I have done the same many times as a child. I took our home’s wreath, threw at the big fire which one of our neighbours (Mr. George Skoutas, my best friend Angela’s father) prepared for our neighbourhood. Beautiful times….”

By June 24th, feast day of John the Baptist, these May Day flowers surely must have had it. Watching dried daisies and poppies catch fire does sounds like a scintillating way to mark the solstice.

We note that average daily temperatures in Heraklion, Crete, for June hover around 82.

Here in Austin, June’s average highs are 92. St. John’s Wort is already in full bloom. No wreaths here. The fire is already staring down from on high.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/01 at 12:58 PM


Human Flower Project is an indispensable website!  This reminded me of the wreath of stephanotis, baby’s breath and ivy that I wore at my wedding.  Once again you’ve made me smile.  Thank you, Julie!

Posted by Jane on 05/04 at 08:32 AM

Dear Jane,

Wonderful to hear from you, and to see your own May crown at The Blue Lantern.

Happy spring in beautiful New York.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/04 at 11:14 PM
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