May Day

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A celebratory cover of the Dutch satire magazine De Notenkraker in honor of May Day festivities.

May Day on May 1 is an ancient Northern Hemisphere spring festival and usually a public holiday;[1] it is also a traditional spring holiday in many cultures. May Day coincides with International Workers' Day, and in many countries that celebrate the latter, it may be referred to as "May Day".

Traditional May Day celebrations[edit]

May Day is related to the Celtic festival of Beltane and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night. May Day falls half a year from November 1 – another cross-quarter day which is also associated with various northern European paganisms and the year in the Northern Hemisphere – and it has traditionally been an occasion for popular and often raucous celebrations.[citation needed]

As Europe became Christianized, the pagan holidays lost their religious character and either changed into popular secular celebrations, as with May Day, or were merged with or replaced by new Christian holidays as with Christmas, Easter, and All Saint's Day. In the 20th and continuing into the 21st century, many neopagans began reconstructing the old traditions and celebrating May Day as a pagan religious festival again.[2] Note that the source noted does not support any of the changes claimed by the previous statement. The only significant Christianization of May day is essential localized to Germany where it is one of many historic days that were used to celebrate St. Walburga (the saint credited with bringing Christianity to Germany).

Origins[edit]

The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times, with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane. Many pagan celebrations were abandoned or Christianized during the process of conversion in Europe. A more secular version of May Day continues to be observed in Europe and America. In this form, May Day may be best known for its tradition of dancing the maypole dance and crowning of the Queen of the May. Various Neopagan groups celebrate reconstructed (to varying degrees) versions of these customs on May 1. Also it comes from the term used by boats almost crashing. The first boat to ever crash was on the 1st of may 1705 and the term has been used since.

The day was a traditional summer holiday in many pre-Christian European pagan cultures. While February 1 was the first day of Spring, May 1 was the first day of summer; hence, the summer solstice on June 25 (now June 21) was Midsummer.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, May is observed as Mary's month, and in these circles May Day is usually a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this connection, in works of art, school skits, and so forth, Mary's head will often be adorned with flowers in a May crowning.

Fading in popularity since the late 20th century is the giving of "May baskets", small baskets of sweets and/or flowers, usually left anonymously on neighbors' doorsteps.[3]

Europe[edit]

Great Britain[edit]

May Queen on village green, Melmerby, England

Traditional British May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen and celebrations involving a maypole. Much of this tradition derives from the pagan Anglo-Saxon customs held during "Þrimilci-mōnaþ"[4] (the Old English name for the month of May meaning Month of Three Milkings) along with many Celtic traditions.

Morris dancing on May Day in Oxford, England, in 2004.
May blossom, the flower of the May tree

May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries. May Day is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility (of the soil, livestock, and people) and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings. Since the reform of the Catholic calendar, May 1 is the Feast of St Joseph the Worker, the patron saint of workers. Seeding has been completed by this date and it was convenient to give farm labourers a day off. Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the maypole, around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons.

The May Day bank holiday, on the first Monday in May, was traditionally the only one to affect the state school calendar, although new arrangements in some areas to even out the length of school terms mean that Good Friday (a common law holiday) and Easter Monday (a bank holiday), which vary from year to year, may also fall during term time. The Spring Bank Holiday on the first Monday in May was created in 1978; May Day itself – May 1 – is not a public holiday in England (unless it falls on a Monday). In February 2011, the UK Parliament was reported to be considering scrapping the bank holiday associated with May Day, replacing it with a bank holiday in October, possibly coinciding with Trafalgar Day (celebrated on October 21), to create a "United Kingdom Day".[5]

May Day was abolished and its celebration banned by puritan parliaments during the Interregnum, but reinstated with the restoration of Charles II in 1660.[6] May 1, 1707, was the day the Act of Union came into effect, joining England and Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Queen Guinevere's Maying

For thus it chanced one morn when all the court,
Green-suited, but with plumes that mocked the may,
Had been, their wont, a-maying and returned,
That Modred still in green, all ear and eye,
Climbed to the high top of the garden-wall
To spy some secret scandal if he might,
[7]

In Oxford, it is traditional for May Morning revellers to gather below the Great Tower of Magdalen College at 6:00 a.m. to listen to the college choir sing traditional madrigals as a conclusion to the previous night's celebrations. It is then thought to be traditional for some people to jump off Magdalen Bridge into the River Cherwell. However this has actually only been fashionable since the 1970s, possibly due to the presence of television cameras. In recent years, the bridge has been closed on 1 May to prevent people from jumping, as the water under the bridge is only 2 feet (61 cm) deep and jumping from the bridge has resulted in serious injury in the past. There are still people who insist on climbing the barriers and leaping into the water, causing themselves injury.[8]

In Durham, students of the University of Durham gather on Prebend's Bridge to see the sunrise and enjoy festivities, folk music, dancing, madrigal singing and a barbecue breakfast. This is an emerging Durham tradition, with patchy observance since 2001.

Whitstable, Kent, hosts a good example of more traditional May Day festivities, where the Jack in the Green festival was revived in 1976 and continues to lead an annual procession of morris dancers through the town on the May Bank Holiday. A separate revival occurred in Hastings in 1983 and has become a major event in the town calendar. A traditional Sweeps Festival is performed over the May bank holiday in Rochester, Kent, where the Jack in the Green is woken at dawn on May 1 by Morris dancers.

At 7:15 p.m. on May 1 each year, the Kettle Bridge Clogs[9] morris dancing side dance across Barming Bridge (otherwise known as the Kettle Bridge), which spans the River Medway near Maidstone, to mark the official start of their morris dancing season. Also known as Ashtoria Day in Northern parts of rural Cumbria. A celebration of unity and female bonding. Although not very well known, it is often cause for huge celebration.

The Maydayrun involves thousands of motorbikes taking a 55-mile (89 km) trip from London (Locksbottom) to the Hastings seafront, East Sussex. The event has been taking place for almost 30 years now and has grown in interest from around the country, both commercially and publicly. The event is not officially organised; the police only manage the traffic, and volunteers manage the parking.

Padstow in Cornwall holds its annual Obby-Oss (Hobby Horse) day of festivities. This is believed to be one of the oldest fertility rites in the UK; revellers dance with the Oss through the streets of the town and even through the private gardens of the citizens, accompanied by accordion players and followers dressed in white with red or blue sashes who sing the traditional 'May Day' song. The whole town is decorated with springtime greenery, and every year thousands of onlookers attend. Prior to the 19th-century distinctive May day celebrations were widespread throughout West Cornwall, and are being revived in St. Ives and Penzance.

Kingsand, Cawsand and Millbrook in Cornwall celebrate Flower Boat Ritual on the May Day bank holiday. A model of the ship The Black Prince is covered in flowers and is taken in procession from the Quay at Millbrook to the beach at Cawsand where it is cast adrift. The houses in the villages are decorated with flowers and people traditionally wear red and white clothes. There are further celebrations in Cawsand Square with Morris dancing and May pole dancing.

At the University of St Andrews, some of the students gather on the beach late on April 30 and run into the North Sea at sunrise on May Day, occasionally naked. This is accompanied by torchlit processions and much elated celebration.

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow organize Mayday festivals and rallies. In Edinburgh, the Beltane Fire Festival is held on the evening of May eve and into the early hours of May Day on the city's Calton Hill. An older Edinburgh tradition has it that young women who climb Arthur's Seat and wash their faces in the morning dew will have lifelong beauty.

In London the May Day march and rally, organised by the London May Day Committee (South East Region Trades Councils), gather together in Clerkenwell Green near the Marx Memorial Library before marching to Trafalgar Square for a rally with speeches from representatives of local, national and international trades unions and campaigning organisations. This event always takes place on May 1st - with the intention to reinstate May 1st. regardless of what day it falls on, as a national holiday. More images and information of London's May Day rally is covered by the "Working Class Heroes" project.

Finland[edit]

Celebrations among the younger generations take place on May Day Eve, see Walpurgis Night in Finland, most prominent being the afternoon 'crowning' of statues in towns around the country with a student cap.

May Day is known as Vappu, from the Swedish term. This is a public holiday that is the only carnival-style street festivity in the country. People young and old, particularly students, party outside, picnic and wear caps or other decorative clothing.

Some Finns make a special lemonade from lemons, brown sugar, and yeast called "sima". It contains very little alcohol, so even children can drink it. A similar product can also be bought in all stores. Some Finns also make doughnuts and a crisp pastry fried in oil made from a similar, more liquid dough.

Balloons and other decorations like paper streamers are seen everywhere.

France[edit]

On May 1, 1561, King Charles IX of France received a lily of the valley as a lucky charm. He decided to offer a lily of the valley each year to the ladies of the court. At the beginning of the 20th century, it became custom to give a sprig of lily of the valley, a symbol of springtime, on May 1. The government permits individuals and workers' organisations to sell them tax-free. Nowadays, people may present loved ones either with bunches of lily of the valley or dog rose flowers.[10]

Germany[edit]

Maibaum in Munich, Germany.
Maibaum in Ellbach, Germany

In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of a Maibaum (maypole). Young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto: "Tanz in den Mai!" ("Dance into May!"). In the Rhineland, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a maypole, a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. Females usually place roses or rice in form of a heart at the house of their beloved one. It is common to stick the heart to a window or place it in front of the doormat.

On leap years, it is the responsibility of the females to place the maypole.

All the action is usually done secretly and it is an individual's choice whether to give a hint of their identity or stay anonymous.

May Day was not established as a public holiday until 1933. As Labour Day, many political parties and unions host activities related to work and employment.

Ireland[edit]

May Day has been celebrated in Ireland since pagan times as the feast of Bealtaine and in latter times as Mary's day. Traditionally, bonfires were lit to mark the coming of summer and to banish the long nights of winter. Officially Irish May Day holiday is the first Monday in May. Old traditions such as bonfires are no longer widely observed, though the practice still persists in some places across the country. Limerick, Clare and many other people in other counties still keep on this tradition such as the town of Arklow in Co. Wicklow.[11]

Bulgaria[edit]

On May Day, Bulgarians celebrate Irminden (or Yeremiya, Eremiya, Irima, Zamski den). The holiday is associated with snakes and lizards and rituals are made in order to protect people from them. The name of the holiday comes from the prophet Jeremiah, but its origins are most probably pagan.

It is said that on the days of the Holy Fourty or Annunciation snakes come out of their burrows, and on Irminden their king comes out. Old people believe that those working in the fields on this day will be bitten by a snake in summer.

In Western Bulgaria people light fires, jump over them and make noises to scare snakes. Another custom is to prepare “podnici” (special clay pots made for baking bread).

This day is especially observed by pregnant women so that their offspring do not catch “yeremiya” - a illness due to evil powers.

Romania[edit]

On May Day, the Romanians celebrate the arminden (or armindeni), the beginning of summer, symbolically tied with the protection of crops and farm animals. The name comes from Slavonic Jeremiinŭ dĭnĭ, meaning prophet Jeremiah's day, but the celebration rites and habits of this day are apotropaic and pagan (possibly originating in the cult of the god Pan).

The day is also called ziua pelinului (mugwort day) or ziua bețivilor (drunkards' day) and it is celebrated to insure good wine in autumn and, for people and farm animals alike, good health and protection from the elements of nature (storms, hail, illness, pests). People would have parties in the nature with lăutari (fiddlers), for those who could afford it. There, it is customary to roast and eat lamb, also eat new mutton cheese and drink mugwort-flavoured wine or just red wine to refresh the blood and get protection from diseases. On the way back, the men wear lilac or mugwort flowers on their hats.

Other apotropaic rites include, in some areas of the country, people washing their faces with the morning dew (for good health) and adorning the gates for good luck and abundance with green branches or with birch saplings (for the houses with maiden girls). The entries to the animals' shelters are also adorned with green branches. All branches are left in place until the wheat harvest when they are used in the fire which will bake the first bread from the new wheat.

On May Day eve, country women do not work in the field as well as in the house to avoid devastating storms and hail coming down on the village.

Arminden is also ziua boilor (oxen day) and thus the animals are not to be used for work, or else they could die or their owners could get ill.

It is said that the weather is always good on May Day to allow people to celebrate.

Sweden[edit]

The more traditional festivities have moved to the day before, Walpurgis Night ("Valborgsmässoafton"), known in some locales as simply "Last of April".

The first of May is instead celebrated as International Workers' Day.

Children dancing around a maypole as part of a May Day celebration in Welwyn, England

North America[edit]

Canada[edit]

May Day is celebrated in some parts of the Province of British Columbia. Celebrations often take place not on May 1 but during the Victoria Day long weekend, later in the month and when the weather is likely to be better. The honour of having the longest continually observed May Day in the British Commonwealth – since 1870 – is claimed by the BC city of New Westminster.

United States[edit]

May Day festivities at National Park Seminary in Maryland, 1907.

May Day was also celebrated by some early European settlers of the American continent. In some parts of the United States, May Baskets are made. These are small baskets usually filled with flowers or treats and left at someone's doorstep. The giver rings the bell and runs away. The person receiving the basket tries to catch the fleeing giver; if caught, a kiss is exchanged.[citation needed]

International Workers' Day began in the United States, as a commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 in Chicago.[12] After the successful 1917 workers' revolution in Russia, May Day became a widely celebrated holiday in the industrial areas of the United States.[13][14][15] However, the growing support for socialism and communism by the American public was soon met with a reactionary fear campaign called the "Red Scare," which resulted in the imprisonment of activists and the promotion of anti-communist sentiment in American society. After the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, while the Soviet Union was experiencing rapid industrialization and economic expansion, May Day was once again widely celebrated with mass street demonstrations in American cities while public support for socialism began to rise to unprecedented levels.

After the Allied victory in the Second World War in 1945, friendly relationships between the US and the Soviet Union quickly disintegrated and the Cold War began. A new campaign of anti-communist hysteria was pushed by conservatives such as Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, resulting in the federal persecution of Communists and extreme public paranoia towards the perceived threat they posed to the "American way." May Day celebrations became politically unacceptable, and many demonstrations were met with severe police suppression. To combat the celebration of International Workers' Day, nationalist propaganda holidays were established in its place, such as Loyalty Day and Law Day in 1958.[16] By the end of the second Red Scare, May Day was thereafter continually celebrated as a day of labor demonstrations and public protest but never regained the popularity of the past.

Modern May Day ceremonies in the U.S. vary greatly from region to region and many unite both the holidays "Green Root" (pagan) and "Red Root" (labor) traditions.[17] In 2006, after the passing of an "Illegal Immigration Control Act," May Day was celebrated largely around the issue of immigration reform. After the financial collapse of 2007 and the ensuing Great Recession, May Day demonstrations grew in popularity and the holiday was widely observed and coordinated by the Occupy Movement in 2012.

Hawaii[edit]

In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day, and it is normally set aside as a day to celebrate island culture in general and the culture of the Native Hawaiians in particular. Invented by poet and local newspaper columnist Eric Kosciuszko in the 1920s, it has since been adopted by state and local government, as well as local residents, and has taken on the sense of a general spring celebration.

The first official Lei Day was proposed in 1927 in Honolulu by poet and artist Don Blanding. Leonard "Red" and Ruth Hawk composed "May Day Is Lei Day in Hawai'i", the traditional holiday song. Originally it was a contemporary fox trot, later rearranged as the Hawaiian hula song performed today.[citation needed]

Oceania[edit]

Australia[edit]

May Day is celebrated as a public holiday in only one territory, the Northern Territory, where the public holiday occurs on the first Monday in May. In Australia generally, unofficial activities and commemorations associated with International Workers' Day take place on May Day.

International Workers' Day[edit]

International Workers' Day, also known as May Day, is a celebration of the international labour movement. May 1 is a national holiday in more than 80 countries and celebrated unofficially in many other countries. May Day has long been a focal point for demonstrations by various socialist, communist and anarchist groups commemorating the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Aveni, Anthony Aveni (2004). "May Day: A Collision of Forces". The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 79-89.
  2. ^ Note this source does not make any of the claims in the previous statement "May Day". Infoplease. Pearson Education. 
  3. ^ Charming May Day Baskets
  4. ^ Caput XV: De mensibus Anglorum from De mensibus Anglorum. Available online: [1]
  5. ^ Curtis, Polly (February 4, 2011). "Mayday for May Day: Bank Holiday May Move to 'Best of British' October Slot – Minister Says Swap Would Extend Tourist Season But Unions See Tory Plot to Get Rid of Workers' Day". The Guardian. Retrieved May 1, 2013. 
  6. ^ Hutton, Ronald (1996). The rise and fall of Merry England (New ed. ed.). Oxford: Oxford university press. pp. 27–8. ISBN 0-19-285447-X. 
  7. ^ Idylls of the King : Guinevere, Alfred Lord Tennyson 1859
  8. ^ Staff (May 1, 2008). "Jumpers Flout May Day Bridge Ban". BBC News. Retrieved May 1, 2013.
  9. ^ Kettle Bridge Clogs
  10. ^ May Day in France Timeanddate.com.
  11. ^ [2].
  12. ^ Avrich (1986). The Haymarket Tragedy. Princeton University Press. pp. 208–209. ISBN 0691006008. 
  13. ^ "The New American: May Day history". Retrieved 2013-05-05. 
  14. ^ "Communist Party USA: May Day 2013". Retrieved 2013-05-05. 
  15. ^ "Socialist Party Events". Retrieved 2013-05-05. 
  16. ^ "The Rule of Law" American Bar Association.
  17. ^ Sheehy, Colleen J. (Ed., 1999). Theatre of Wonder: 25 Years in the Heart of the Beast. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.. p. 79-89.

External links[edit]

Histories of May Day