Apr 30, 2018

May Day: Why it's more than just a mandatory annual holiday


What is May Day? Is it just the annual holiday on May 1 that’s followed almost everywhere globally? There’s a lot more to this day, and there’s more than just one reason why it’s celebrated! Here’s what you need to know about May Day.

Origins of May Day

The earliest recorded May Day celebrations appeared in the Floralia, which was an ancient ritual in Rome to honour the goddess of flowers. This ancient spring festival celebrated the end of spring and the beginning of summer. It was held on April 27, and it was simultaneously held during Walpurgis night celebrations in the Germanic regions: Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, etc.


How May Day is celebrated around the globe

Perhaps the nation with the richest culture of celebrating May Day belongs to the United Kingdom. No country has a more diverse tradition and celebration when it comes to the first of May!

Celebration of May Day, a summer festival, was even banned for a period of time by Puritan parliaments, but it was restored by 1660.

A charmingly pastoral celebration, English May Day celebrations begin with the crowning of a Queen of May, the spirit of the season. This lady, often a major figure in the village, rules over the May Day celebrations and presides over the dancing. A Maypole, a long pole coloured and decorated with ribbons tied on top, is erected and the youth of the village dance around it with the ribbons. Morris dancing was seen as a traditional part of the festivities.

Not only is May Day a summer festival, it’s also a festival of fertility and rebirth. Once, it was expected that the dance would bring about a number of weddings (and births!) in the coming season.

Combining the spirit of honouring honest labour as well as welcoming the summer, the West, and the UK in particular, have been celebrating May Day for centuries in a variety of ways.


Celebrations around the world



In Oxford, the centuries-old tradition sees people gather below the Great Tower of Magdalen College at around 6am to listen to the choir sing traditional madrigals.

In Durham, the tradition is for students of the University of Durham get together on Prebends bridge to witness the sunrise and enjoy all the music, dancing, singing, and the rest of the festivities!

In London, there is a “Maydayrun” that has thousands of motorcycles going on a 90-kilometre journey to Hasting Seafront, East Sussex. This has been a 30-year tradition that has only grown, seeing a good deal of commercial success.

In Kingsand, Millbrook and Cawsand in the Cornwall region, a great Flower Boat Ritual takes place during May Day. In this, a model of "The Black Prince" ship is covered in flowers and is taken from Millbrook to the beach at Cawsand, where it is set free. Houses in these villages are covered in flowers, with people generally wearing white and red clothes.



May Day has been celebrated for centuries in Scotland! It's primarily celebrated in the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Beltane Fire Festival is hosted on May Day eve in Edinburgh.

An age-old tradition in the city sees young women trying to climb Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, as it's believed that when they climb the seat and wash their faces in the morning dew, they will be blessed with lifelong beauty. Torchlit processions by the seaside are also common.



In German villages, Walpurgis celebrations, a leftover from the pre-Christian era, are usually held on the eve of May Day, which involves wrapping up a maypole. Walpurgis is seen as a chance for families to gather together.


















Czech Republic

The Czech have a very interesting take on May Day. It is considered as the holiday of love, and you will see couples kissing under a blooming tree. This tradition has been around for decades, dating back to the early 20th century. If you're in the Czech Republic during May Day festivities, be surprised if there isn't a couple kissing below a cherry, apple or birch tree!




In Romania, May Day is a symbolic festival which has a great deal to do with the protection of crops and farm animals. The Romanians celebrate to have good wine in autumn, good health for humans and animals and protection from nature’s biggest inconveniences. They celebrate with a grand feast and fine red wine.


United States of America

In the United States, the celebration of May Day varies from state to state. However, one of the notable ones is the Minneapolis May Day parade. The annual parade draws a whopping 50,000 people to Powderhorn Park!


Another notable May Day celebration is in Hawaii, where it's known as Lei Day. It's used to celebrate the culture of the island and the native Hawaiians. The tradition dates back to 1927.


International Workers’ Day

Today, May Day is more known as International Workers' Day. This traces back to late 19th century, when working conditions were unbearable and people worked ten to sixteen hours a day. In May 1886, agitations began for the eight-hour working day. These protests went horribly wrong, with injuries and death caused to agitators and police. However, the date of May 1 was selected to celebrate the day and the spirit of labour.

It's hard to sum up the entire struggle, but it was more than just a movement of the people to work fewer hours! It was a movement to change the economic structure of capitalism. The 1886 May agitations were an epochal moment in the history of Communism and Workers’ rights.

As you can see, May Day means something different in every country and every culture. And yet it seems to be almost universal! Most of us may have dismissed May Day as just one more "mandatory holiday", or perhaps thought briefly about the struggles of the worker from our comfortable air-conditioned offices. Yet the history of May Day is much longer and deeper

May Day celebrates the spring; rejuvenation and beginning a new lease of life. International Workers’ Day, the modern May Day, celebrates that same spirit of refreshment and renewal in the workforce. So take the day off. Pamper yourself. Give yourself a break and thrill in the new joy and exuberance that you bring to the workplace this summer.

Happy May Day!

Related Articles

Prev post

Next post