Today is May 1st, otherwise known as May Day. This holiday has had good connotations, such as the traditional notion that it was a celebration of Spring, linked to pagan celebrations of Beltane and the Roman goddess Flora. According to Encyclopedia Britannica,
” Although later practices varied widely, the celebrations came to include the gathering of wildflowers and green branches, the weaving of floral garlands, the crowning of a May king and queen, and the setting up of a decorated May tree, or Maypole, around which people danced. Such rites originally may have been intended to ensure fertility for crops and, by extension, for livestock and humans, but in most cases this significance was gradually lost, so that the practices survived largely as popular festivities.Because the Puritans of New England considered the celebrations of May Day to be licentious and pagan, they forbade its observance, and the holiday never became an important part of American culture.”
May Day is still celebrated in England as a bank holiday. When I was first dating my husband, my second visit coincided with May Day celebrations and the closest town had a fair. We had so much fun riding all the rides, by ourselves and with his niece and nephews, and he won me a stuffed hippo that I still possess. I confess that I never saw a Maypole or a May Queen, although I’m sure there was one somewhere in England. So for me the day has very good memories. Similar holidays are celebrated in Finland, Germany, Ireland, and Romania, to name a few. In France, according to Wikipedia, “On May 1, 1561, King Charles IX of France received a lily of 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.”
I had no idea that the day had more serious overtones to it as well. Elsewhere in the world, May 1st is known as International Workers Day. It is meant to celebrate the labor movement, in particular the Haymarket Affair in Chicago in 1886, which was a protest which demanded 8 hour workdays for everyone. However the establishment of this law didn’t happen for many years after this date. In the US, the holiday is called Law Day by President Eisenhower in 1958 to emphasize American Democracy, as the other celebration of the day was thought “too Communist”. For a more detailed history on the holiday, check out this webpage. Today workers all over the world have been involved in rallies and protests. According to this article, rallies were
“from fury in Europe over austerity measures that have cut wages, reduced benefits and eliminated many jobs altogether, to rage in Asia over relentlessly low pay, the rising cost of living and hideous working conditions that have left hundreds dead in recent months. In protests, strikes and other demonstrations held in cities across the planet, activists lashed out at political and business leaders they allege have ignored workers’ voices or enriched themselves at the expense of laborers. In some places, the demonstrations turned violent, with activists clashing with police.”
For more information about demonstrations happening today in Bangladesh, Greece, Spain, Turkey, Denmark, Sweden, Indonesia and many other places, please check out the above article. While I meant Happy May Day in association with the nicer side of the day, I think it is also important to speak out for workers rights all over the world. There are sadly a lot of injustices going on by companies and governments in the US and abroad that need to be addressed and today is the internationally recognized day for doing so.