Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Two Sides Of May Day

A turn of the century celebration
Today is the first of May.  In Europe, as in other parts of the world, it is May Day, a pagan holiday traditionally celebrating the first day of summer (with the solstice on the 21st of June recognizing midsummer).  As is the case with most celebrations, the rituals vary by country.  In Great Britain traditions include the crowing of the May Queen, and traditional Morris dancing while in Germany bonfires and the wrapping of the May Pole dominate the day.  May Day celebrations are not confined to Europe though, as smaller celebrations also take place in parts of North America.  As a child I remember my mother putting together small baskets of flowers and leaving them on the doorsteps of friends and neighbors early on the morning of the first of May. Tradition holds that the person leaving the basket was to ring the doorbell then flee before the recipient caught them.  If they were caught a kiss was supposed to be exchanged.  I never asked my mom if she was the recipient of any kisses!  May Day is also called Lei Day in Hawaii and is a day for celebrating traditional island culture.  Regardless of the location or the means of celebrating, this is a day to get outside and recognize the arrival of summer (which literally happened overnight here in Albania).

The first of May is also a day to recognize a completely different segment of society--the worker. Around the globe today is also International Worker's Day, a day when workers and worker's rights around the world are recognized.  (Labor Day, recognized on the first Monday of September in the United States, is the American equivalent of this international day).  International Worker's Day first commemorated Chicago's Haymarket Affair where a demonstration by workers demanding shorter work days was disrupted by police with four protesters subsequently being killed.  Over time International Workers Day, or May Day as it is also called, became synonymous with rights for the ordinary worker.  This day has long been a focal point for demonstrations by socialist, communist, and anarchist groups with such countries as the People's Republic of China, the former Soviet Union, Cuba, and North Korea adding military parades to the day's agendas.   Through the persistence of thousands of workers, today is a legal holiday in many countries around the globe.   It is here in Albania and as such our Embassy is closed (for the later reason and not the former).   So today is a day of celebrations and recognition ceremonies around the world. Some may be traditional pagan ceremonies with music, dancing, and May Poles while others may be demonstrations demanding increased rights for workers and parades celebrating workers.  Two very different ways of celebrating for a single day but equally important to those who recognize them.


  1. we used to make clover headbands and dance around the maypole in elementary school. it was all tied in to a Catholic holiday (which has slipped my mind).

    always we should celebrate the worker. :)

  2. My mother used to talk about wrapping the May Pole when she was a teenager. I loved it the year e did it when I was a child.

  3. I love this - how we celebrate and how those celebrations shape us. Since I am so aware of it this year, I think next year I'll be more prepared for it! I look forward to knowing you better this month via NaBloPoMo