May Day is observed annually on May 1. In many ancient calendars, May 1 was the first day of summer. This was a cause for celebration. One of the more popular rituals was harvesting flowers and giving them to neighbors and strangers in cone-shaped baskets. These “May Baskets” become more commonly known as “May Day Baskets”. The current tradition is observed by hanging a cone-shaped basket full of flowers or other gifts on the outside doorknob, then knocking or ringing the doorbell and run away.
May Day has been a traditional day of celebration for centuries, with some of the earliest appearing in pre-Christian times. In English tradition, May Day is celebrated by crowning a May Queen and dancing around a maypole. The Finnish tradition is a carnival-type celebration in the streets that includes a special type of lemonade that is made with lemons, brown sugar and yeast. In France, it is correct to give people either dogwood or lily of the valley to celebrate May Day. In Italy, a seasonal feast is held to celebrate the arrival of spring.
While different countries have different ways to celebrate May Day, it is truly a celebration of spring.
- England – May Day has a long history and tradition in England. The day is celebrated with music and dancing. Perhaps the most famous part of the celebration is the Maypole. Children dance around the Maypole holding onto colorful ribbons. Many people use flowers and leaves to make hoops and hair garlands as well. A lot of towns also crown a May Queen on this day.
- Walpurgis Night – Some countries celebrate the night before May Day called Walpurgis Night. These countries include Germany, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic. The celebration is named after English missionary Saint Walpurga. People celebrate with large bonfires and dancing.
- Scotland and Ireland – Long ago in the Middle Ages the Gaelic people of Scotland and Ireland celebrated the festival of Beltane. Beltane means “Day of Fire”. They had large bonfires and dancing at night to celebrate. Some people are starting to celebrate Beltane again.
- In Ancient Greece they celebrated the Festival of Chloris. She was the goddess of flowers and spring. The Ancient Romans had a similar festival in honor of the goddess Flora.
- Morris Dancers in England wear hats decorated with flowers, suspenders, and ankle bells. They stomp their feet, wave handkerchiefs, and bang sticks together when they dance.
- A Maypole stands all year long in Inkwell, England. It has been there since 1894.
- Maypoles were sometimes made from old ship’s masts.
- The Pagan name for May Day is Beltane, which means “Day of ×re”,
which marks the coming of summer and fertility.
- Every year thousands of men and women dance around a Maypole, holding on to ribbons until they become entwined with their new loves!
- In 1644, Members of Parliament banned all festivities on May Day. Unlike Easter and Christmas, May Day is the one festival of the year which has no signi×cant church service. – Not too surprising really, considering it’s a Pagan festival!
- In May of 1886, activists in the United States organized a national strike to promote an eight-hour workday. One of the protests, in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, turned violent, with days of clashes between police and demonstrators. The incident came to be known as the Haymarket Affair.
- To honor those who participated in the Haymarket protest, the International Socialist Conference declared that May 1 would be a day designated for labor, called International Workers’ Day. The holiday was established at a meeting in 1889.