Kissing under cherry blossoms: Will climate change thwart Czechs’ May Day love ritual?   

May 1 is the Czech equivalent of Valentine’s Day, when couples  kiss under blossoming cherry trees to seal their relationship. Now, however, the custom may be threatened by climate change, which causes trees to bloom much earlier than before. 

Many Czech couples searched in vain this year for a cherry tree in bloom for the traditional backdrop to their May Day kiss. In many parts of the country, cherry blossoms had long faded as a result of the early onset of spring. Given the global climate change, this is likely to happen more and more frequently in the future.

Statue of Karel Hynek Mácha,  who wrote famous romantic poem Máj  | Photo: Kristýna Maková,  Radio Prague International

One couple from Ostrava decided to solve the problem by performing the May Day kissing ritual days in advance:

“Because on the first of May, there will be nothing left on the trees. They are in bloom now, so that’s when we have to kiss. Why not do it sooner? There is no reason to wait!”

The early blooming of cherry trees is not only a concern for couples, who enjoy the romantic May Day ritual, but also for scientists and farmers.

The earlier onset of spring means both a greater risk of flowers freezing, as fruit growers and wine growers in Czechia have sadly just experienced, but also an increased risk of drought later in the year.

According to Charles University’s environment expert Vojtěch Kotecký, the early blooming of cheery trees represents a wider problem that is happening all around us:

“The climate is changing because there are more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This translates into a warmer planet and, consequently, an earlier onset of spring, but also into a number of other issues. Many of them will impact our lives and the state of our landscape much more than trees flowering a few weeks earlier than we were used to.”

According to long-term measurements, cheery trees now bloom two to three weeks earlier than in the past. In some parts of the country, kissing under a cherry tree in bloom on May 1 simply won’t be possible any longer, says climatologist Miroslav Trnka from the Academy of Sciences’ Global Change Research Institute

Petřín Gardens | Photo: Štěpánka Budková,  Radio Prague International

“In the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands, in the higher regions, it may still be possible to find a cherry tree in bloom on May Day. In the lowlands, whether it’s the Labe River valley or South Moravia, it certainly won’t.  I think we will simply have to do without.”

Miroslav Trnka is more optimistic about the future of this popular Czech tradition. He says the ongoing climate changes may prompt arborists to plant more later-flowering trees in the cities.

“Maybe we will kiss under flowering linden trees, who knows? But there are still varieties of cherries that can bloom much later, so I definitely wouldn't say there won’t be any blooming cherry tree in Prague or Brno on May 1. It really depends on the location of the tree and on the weather in April.”