CDRC Aims to Restore Celtic and Gaelic Culture

By Lura Jackson


Before many of our families came to the St. Croix Valley to settle, however many generations ago, we generally came from one place: The United Kingdom. As such, the cultural heritage of the valley for European immigrants generally consists of English, Irish, and Scottish traditions. Within that mixture are Celtic and Gaelic customs – customs that the Calais Downtown Revitalization Coalition [CDRC] is interested in restoring to modern-day practice with a goal of promoting community kinship and attracting visitors.

“A culture is an attraction for a community,” Carole Heinlein of the CDRC explained. “It makes sense to do something based on your culture.” Heinlein, who is not from the area originally, describes the St. Croix Valley as being predominantly descended from the United Kingdom. With census data reporting 25 percent of Calais residents being either Scottish or Irish and 31 percent English, there’s a clear pool of ancestry tying the community together.

Initially, the CDRC is starting somewhat simply by building interest with its first annual “May Pole” street lamp decorating contest. While it doesn’t involve the traditional single pole that is danced around with ribbons, it does incorporate the downtown lamp posts in the same fashion that the Scarecrow Fest does. Several business owners, groups, and individuals have signed up to decorate a lamp post downtown in an appropriate fashion. “It could be anything from druidic to Gaelic, or wherever your imagination takes you,” Heinlein said. “The goal is to get the creative juices going and to make downtown Calais more fun. Decorated lamp posts get people to slow down, get people out of their cars and hopefully into our downtown shops and eateries.” The lamp posts will remain decorated throughout May.

On Saturday, May 19th, the CDRC has arranged for downtown merchants to hold a sidewalk fair outside of their businesses. Any business that doesn’t wish to participate can give their space to a nonprofit organization. “It’s something to get people out of their cars and boost the downtown economy,” Heinlein said.

Aside from the currently scheduled activities, Heinlein is encouraging community members to reflect on other traditions their family may have participated in at one time but no longer does, including making and sharing May baskets. Traditionally, May baskets would be made from spring flowers and hung on the door of a friend or loved one on the first day of May.

In the future, Heinlein hopes that the CDRC will be able to continue to build its momentum with celebrating Celtic and Gaelic traditions around Beltane (or May Day), which symbolizes the beginning of the summer months. Beltane has traditionally been celebrated with bonfires and dancing in the past – one or both of which Heinlein would like to see restored to practice in the modern era. “It took us years to put the Scarecrow Fest together and get it going, so we’d like to see if we can do the same with this by starting now.” 

If you are interested in decorating a May Pole in downtown Calais at no cost, contact Carole at 454-1110 or Diane at 214-6581. The poles will need to be decorated by May 1st to be eligible for entry into the contest.