May Day is a holiday that means many things to many people. When I was a little girl, my sister Debbie and I celebrated May Day by making a flower basket and hanging it on a neighbors door! Will you celebrate May Day events during this fun holiday?
The History of May Day
The history of May Day like many is tied into a Pagan Festival and goes back long ago. The May Day history is linked to the Druids of the British Isles. The history I found was part of the festival of Beltane. This festival was a celebration of spring, a time when the day divides the year into half. Similar to the Equinox, the other half was to be ended with the Samhain on November 1.
The Druids on the British Isles celebrated by setting new fires as part of their New Year rite. This was performed throughout the world and thought to lend life to the burgeoning springtime sun. Holiday of May Day states that “Cattle were driven through the fire to purify them. Men, with their sweethearts, passed through the smoke for seeing good luck.”
Romans occupied the British Isles adding in their traditions of the Floralia festival which celebrated their worship of Flora, the goddess of Flowers. These customs are similar to those of today. Another source cited Beltane as the “beginning of summer” festival. Originally a fertility festival, over time, May Day has became a day for kids and to celebrate flora and spring!
Ways May Day is Celebrated
A couple of years ago I attended one of the Springfield, Illinois German Clubs fun events where they had a Maypole. The Maypole was popular by the time the Middle Ages rolled around. The tradition was to bring a Maypole from the woods. Streamers were then tied to the pole and merry makers danced around the Maypole in celebration. The streamers or ribbons as the dancers move around interweave to form a braided affect. The braid can be undone by retracing one’s steps.
The Maypole tradition is observed both in Europe and North America. Besides dancing around the maypole, this tradition often included crowing a Queen of May.
Other traditions included the one that my sister Debbie and I did, the giving of “May baskets,” with sweets or flowers, that were usually left anonymously on neighbors’ doorsteps. We always left ours on the same neighbors door. One that had the most beautiful flowers in the neighborhood!
International Worker’s Day
A more recent twist of May Day is the International Worker’s Day take. The Day is also known as Worker’s Day and Labour Day in some countries and is a celebration of laborer’s and the working class. The date was chosen to commemorate the Haymarket affair which took place in Chicago on May 45, 1886.
The May Day calendar explained at this event “more than a dozen people were killed after a 3-day strike and rally. US Labor Unions had agreed upon a general nationwide strike on May 1, 1886 in support of an eight-hour work day. One such rally, held outside the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, Chicago, Illinois, became violent when police fired into the crowd of striking workers. Outraged, the worker’s organized another rally the next day at Haymarket Square. The rally became violent when a bomb was thrown into a crowd of police. Seven officers were killed. A very public trial ensued which ended in the public hanging of four anarchists.”
As someone who writes about agricultural history, this was something I really didn’t know anything about. I must say, this part of May Day history is not a so called “fun” event, but truly one that should be remembered as we think about the safer labor laws of today and appreciate those that worked to make that happen for us.
May Day Events
When I looked for May Day events I found music festivals, film festivals, and even an electronics festival in honor of May Day. Locally there is going to be a Mother Jone’s Birthday Party in Mount Olive on May Day that I plan to attend. Mother Jones was a labor activist that fought for labor laws mostly for miners, many who were just boys.
I would also love to make May baskets with the grandkids.
However you choose to celebrate May Day, whether traveling, or in your back yard, enjoy this segue into spring. Make sure to include a flower somehow in this fun event!