May 1st Is May DayApril 30th, 2012 by Craig Mullins
Dating back to ancient times, May Day is a traditional spring holiday festival for many cultures of the northern hemisphere, always held on May 1st.
The earliest known May Day celebrations occurred pre-Christianity, with the pagan festival of Flora (the Roman goddess of flowers). The May Day holiday is related to the Celtic festival of Beltane as well as the German festival of Walpurgis Night.
When Christians came to Europe and took over, many pagan holidays were lost along the way. They were either changed into popular secular celebrations or were merged with/replaced by new Christian holidays like Easter, Christmas, and All Saint’s Day. It wasn’t until the 20th century, when many neopagans began reviving the old pagan traditions, that May Day became a popular festival again. Today the May Day celebrations of American and Europe include the traditions of dancing the maypole dance and crowning the Queen of the May.
Today in the United States May Day celebrations vary greatly from region to region, with a common thread of handmade May Baskets. May Baskets are small baskets usually filled with flowers or treats that are left on someone’s doorstep; the person who leaves the basket then rings the doorbell and runs away. The person whose bell was rung tries to catch the person who left the basket, and if successful, a kiss is exchanged.
In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day – a day set aside to celebrate the native Hawaiian culture as well as island culture in general. First invented by a poet and local newspaper columnist in the 1920s, Lei Day has since been adopted by island residents, as well as local and state government, as a day for celebrating the spring season. In honor of the day Leonard “Red” and Ruth Hawk composed “May Day is Lei Day in Hawai’i,”; originally a contemporary fox trot, the song was later rearranged to be the Hawaiian hula song performed today.
Fun Facts About May Day:
- May Day symbolizes the season transition from Winter to Summer and was celebrated by with the first spring planting.
- The Maypole is an important part of the holiday. Putting up a Maypole involved chopping down a tree in the woods and bringing it to the village, thus marking the coming of summer. Single men and women would then dance around the Maypole while holding ribbons until they became entwined with a member of the opposite sex.
- Like many spring holidays, May Day is a celebration of fertility. In times gone by, whole villages would go to the woods and participate in a variety of sexual liaisons.
- May Day is also recognized the world over as International Workers’ Day, or Labour Day. In 1884 Canadian and U.S. trade unions affirmed that as of May 1st 1886, eight hours would constitute a legal work day.
- In 1889 in Paris the International Working Men’s Association declared May 1st a holiday, commemorating the Haymarket Martyrs of 1886 (eight anarchists who were wrongly accused of throwing a bomb at police; four were executed).
- Today, May Day as Labour Day is not recognized by the United States or Canada. In fact, the U.S. government has attempted to erase the history of Labour Day on May 1st altogether, declaring May 1st as “Law Day” instead. For no apparent reason, Labor Day is now observed on the first Monday of September each year.