May Day, holiday of ancient origin, observed on the first day of May, especially in Europe. It has traditionally been celebrated with merrymaking and festivities. Some experts trace May Day celebrations back to agricultural and fertility rites of pre-Christian times. Others associate May Day festivals with ancient Roman rites practiced in honor of Flora, the Roman goddess of spring.
II TRADITIONAL MAY DAY FESTIVITIES
May Day is traditionally greeted with joyous dancing around a garlanded pole, called a maypole, from which streamers hang. Each dancer holds the end of a streamer, and the dancers wind the streamers into a pattern as they move around the maypole. Some schools and colleges still hold May Day festivals with maypole dancing and the selection of a May queen.
Children have also celebrated May Day with the exchange of May baskets. After making baskets of paper, they fill the baskets with flowers, candy, or other goodies and give them to friends.
Traditional May Day festivities have been kept alive in parts of England and other European countries. However, they never became especially popular in the United States.
III INTERNATIONAL WORKERS DAY
May Day has been set aside to commemorate the labor movement in many countries around the world. An international workers’ day was first called for in 1889 at the Second International, a meeting of socialists in Paris, France. The day was intended to honor anarchist workers who were sentenced to death following the Haymarket Square Riot in 1886 in Chicago, Illinois. That rally had been called at Haymarket Square on May 4 to protest police violence against workers campaigning for an eight-hour working day. The Haymarket Square rally turned violent, though no one knows who started the violence.
May Day gradually became popular in more and more countries, although the United States and Canada chose to honor workers on Labor Day in September. May Day was especially significant in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and other Communist countries. In Moscow the May Day parade featured armored tanks, rockets, and military personnel saluting the nations’ leaders. Since 1999 groups protesting globalization and capitalism have staged demonstrations on May 1 in cities around the world.