May Day

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May Day is May 1, and refers to any of several holidays celebrated on this day. May 1 was a traditional springtime holiday in many pre-Christian European pagan cultures, and many elements of these holidays are still celebrated on May 1 today, such as the Maypole. "May Day" also refers to various socialist and labor movement celebrations conducted on May 1, unrelated to the traditional celebrations to commemorate the Haymarket Riot of 1886 and the international socialist movement generally. The latter event is an important holiday in Communist countries and Waldorf Schools.

In America, May Day is commonly celebrated as a commemoration of the Haymarket Riot of 1886 in Chicago, Illinois, which occurred on May 4, but was the culmination of labor unrest which began on May 1. The date consequently became established as an anarchist and socialist holiday during the 20th century, and in these circles it is often known as International Workers' Day or Labour Day. In this form, May Day has become an international celebration of the social and economic achievements of the working class and labor movement.

The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian Europe, as in the Celtic celebration of Beltane, and the Walpurgis Night of the Germanic countries. Although the pagan-oriented celebrations faded as Europe became Christianised, a more secular version of the holiday continued to be observed in the schools and churches of Europe well into the 20th century. In this form, May Day may be best known for its tradition of dancing the Maypole and crowning of the Queen of the May. Today many Neopagans, especially Wiccans, celebrate reconstructed versions of the old pagan holidays on May 1.


[edit] International Workers' Day

International Workers' Day (a name used interchangeably with May Day) is a celebration of the social and economic achievements of the international labour movement. May Day commonly sees organized street demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of working people and their labour unions throughout Europe and most of the rest of the world — though, as noted below, not in either the United States or Canada. More radical groups such as communists and anarchists are also given to widespread street protest on this day as well.

May Day was originally the commemoration of the Chicago riots of 1886: in 1889, the first congress of the Second International, meeting in Paris for the centennial of the French Revolution and the Exposition Universelle (1889), following a proposal by Raymond Lavigne, called for international demonstrations on the 1890 anniversary of the Chicago riot. These were so successful that May Day was formally recognized as an annual event at the International's second congress in 1891. The May Day Riots of 1894 and May Day Riots of 1919 occurred subsequently.

In 1904, the International Socialist Conference meeting in Amsterdam called on "all Social-Democratic Party organizations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on May First for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace." As the most effective way of demonstrating was by striking, the congress made it "mandatory upon the proletarian organizations of all countries to stop work on May 1, wherever it is possible without injury to the workers."

May Day has long been a focal point for demonstrations by various socialist, communist, and anarchist groups. In some circles, bonfires are lit in commemoration of the Haymarket Riot, usually right as the first day of May begins [1].

Due to its status as a celebration of the efforts of workers and the socialist movement, May Day is an important official holiday in Communist countries such as the People's Republic of China, Cuba, and the former Soviet Union. May Day celebrations typically feature elaborate popular and military parades in these countries.

In countries other than the United States and Canada, resident working classes fought hard to make May Day an official holiday[citation needed], efforts which largely succeeded. For this reason, in most of the world today, May Day is marked by massive street rallies led by workers, their trade unions, anarchists and various socialist and communist parties.

The First and Second Red Scare periods ended May Day as a mass holiday in the United States, which now celebrates its Labor Day on the first Monday of September, due to its importance in Communist countries. - Asia's May Day

[edit] National May Day celebrations

[edit] The Soviet Union

May Day was an important official holiday in the Soviet Union, celebrated with elaborate popular and military parades.

[edit] People's Republic of China

In the People's Republic of China, International Workers' Day marks the start of one of the country's three so-called "Golden Weeks". Three days off work are given, and the surrounding weekends are re-arranged so that workers in Chinese workplaces always have seven continuous days of holiday starting on the first of May and ending on the seventh. This holiday, known as "Wu Yi" (五一, literally "5.1") also includes Youth Day on May 4, and is the peak period for Chinese citizens to travel around China and abroad. Also on this day, a huge parade goes through Tian'anmen Square (天安门). It is the largest national parade of the whole year, always televised on CCTV. Most of the parade consists of military demonstrations like air shows and marching soldiers, and many who are selected to join the parade see it as a privilege and take pride in it.

[edit] Germany

Stamp of GDR's 1. Mai
Stamp of GDR's 1. Mai

Berlin, Germany, particularly in the districts of Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg, traditionally has yearly demonstrations on May Day. In 1929, the social democratic SPD government prohibited the annual May Day workers' demonstrations in Berlin. The communist party KPD, which was the strongest party in Berlin, called demonstrations nonetheless. By the end of the day, 32 demonstrators, workers and bystanders had been killed by the police, at least 80 were seriously injured. The Berlin police, under control of the supposedly pro-labour social democratic government, had fired a total of 11,000 rounds of live ammunition.

This incident, remembered in the German language as Blutmai (blood May) deepened the split between the workers' parties KPD and SPD. This gave an advantage to the Nazis, who became Germany's governing party in 1933, partly because the KPD and SPD had been unable to form an anti-Nazi coalition. The Reichsarbeitsdienst (or RAD, Reich Labour Service) was formed in July 1934 as an amalgamation of the outlawed unions.

In today's Germany May Day is still of political significance, with labour unions and parties using this day for political campaigns and activities, but since 1987 it has also become known for heavy rioting by radical leftists, including the punk rock scene, Autonome, and others, but also "regular" youths not fond of the police. However, violence has been on the decline, and May Day in 2005 and 2006 have been among the most peaceful known to Berlin in nearly 25 years.

In recent years, neo-nazis and other groups on the far right like the NPD have also used the day to schedule public demonstrations, often leading to clashes with left-wing protesters, which turned especially violent in the historical city of Leipzig in 1998 and 2005.

[edit] United States

The United States has its own Labor Day holiday, celebrated on the first Monday in September instead of on May Day. However, in 2006, May 1st was chosen by immigrant groups in the United States as the day for the Great American Boycott, an general strike of immigrant workers and supporters to protest H.R. 4437. In various news media, the strike actions were publicly said to have been timed to coincide with International Workers' Day — one of the few known modern instances where this day was mentioned by this name in the mainstream U.S. press. Other news media somewhat erroneously used the term "Mexican Labor Day".[citation needed]

In the United States, various efforts to officially switch Labor Day to the international date of May 1 have failed. The U.S. version of Labor Day was a creation of the 1880s Knights of Labor and was adopted officially in 1887 in the U.S. in an attempt to disassociate labor activism from the radical left. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed May 1st both as Loyalty Day and as Law Day. Each year, the sitting president proclaims these observances on May 1.

[edit] Canada

When socialist delegates in Paris in 1889 appointed May 1 as the official International Labour Day, the Government of Canada — fearing that allowing the proclamation to take hold in Canada might strengthen the socialist movement — quickly moved in 1887 to support the position of the Knights of Labor and their September date for Labour Day. The date was adopted in Canada in 1894 by the government of Prime Minister John Sparrow David Thompson. Another major reason for keeping the current September date is economic: the United States celebrates its Labor Day on the same day, reducing possible inconvenience for businesses with major operations on both sides of the border.

The origins of Labour Day in Canada can be traced back to a printer's revolt in 1872 in Toronto, where labourers tried to establish a 54-hour work week. At that time, any union activity was considered illegal and the organizers were jailed, at the behest of George Brown. Protest marches of over 10,000 workers were formed in response, which eventually led to Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald repealing the anti-union laws and arranging the release of the organizers as well.

[edit] United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom in recent years the anti-capitalist movement has organised a number of large protests in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Doncaster. In London, these have resulted in clashes with the police. (see footage [2]) In 2000 the clashes ended with a branch of McDonalds being smashed and a statue of Winston Churchill being given a grass mohawk as a protest at his alleged crimes, the Cenotaph was also defaced with graffiti (See [3])

The last few years, however, have seen little trouble, with protests consisting of peaceful marches and gatherings, particularly in central London. (See [4]) This downturn in civil disorder is usually attributed to either popular distaste[citation needed] at the events of 2000 or a tougher stance by the British government on violent protest, or a combination thereof. This process has been satirised by the Space Hijackers who in 2006 organised a Mayday Police victory party

Maydayrun[5] is an annual event held in England among countries that celebrate their bank holidays on the first Monday in May. It is also referred to as "MayDay Run" or "May Day Run" as well. The event involves thousands of motorbikes taking a 55-mile trip from the south of London (Locksbottom, Farnborough, Kent) to Hastings Seafront (Hastings, East Sussex). The event has been taking place for over 40 years now and has grown in interest from around the country, both commercially and publicly. The event is not officially organised; the police only manage the traffic, while volunteers manage the parking.

Hastings [6] fills up with tourists and bikes by about 11 AM, and the A21 from Kent to East Sussex is the road the bikers travel. However, this road should be avoided if travelling in a car.

A good example of more traditional May Day festivities may still be witnessed in Padstow and its annual 'Obby 'Oss festival. A traditional Sweeps Festival is performed over the May bank holiday in Rochester, Kent where the Jack In the Green is woken at dawn on the 1st of May by morris dancers.

[edit] New Zealand and Australia

In New Zealand, Labour Day is a public holiday held on the fourth Monday in October — but the traditions of this October day are borne of International Workers' Day and are not the situation of Canada or the United States.

The origins of this day in New Zealand are traced back to the eight-hour working day movement that arose in the newly founded Wellington colony in 1840, primarily because of carpenter Samuel Parnell's refusal to work more than eight hours a day. He encouraged other tradesman to also only work for eight hours a day and in October 1840 a workers' meeting passed a resolution supporting the idea. On 28 October 1890, the 50th anniversary of the eight-hour day was commemorated with a parade. The event was then celebrated annually in late October as either Labour Day or Eight-Hour Demonstration Day. In 1899 government legislated that the day be a public holiday from 1900 onward. The day was celebrated on different days in different provinces. This led to ship owners complaining that seamen were taking excessive holidays by having one Labour Day in one port and then another in their next port. In 1910 the government "Mondayised" the holiday so that it would be observed on the same day throughout the nation. See: Labour Day: A History - from

In Australia, the Labour Day public holiday is fixed by the various states and territories' governments. Depending on the territory in question, the celebrations involved may or may not be connected to International Workers' Day. The day is on the first Monday in October in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and South Australia, while in Western Australia, Labour Day is the first Monday in March, and in both Victoria and Tasmania, it is the second Monday in March (Tasmania calls it "Eight Hours Day"). In both Queensland and the Northern Territory ("May Day").

[edit] Sweden

In Sweden, Labor Day is a public holiday, celebrated by many different socialist parties and groups with political demonstrations and speeches.

[edit] Co-Opting May Day

It was the Nazis, not the social democratic parties of the Weimar Republic, who made May Day a holiday in Germany, calling it the "day of work", which is its official name in the country.[citation needed] Through this proclamation, the Nazis tried to take up the connotations of International Workers' Day, but did not permit socialist demonstrations on this day. Instead, they adapted it to fascist purposes. Then, on May 2, 1933, the Nazis outlawed all free labour unions and other independent workers' organizations in Germany, which subsequently formed their own secret amalgamation.

In the United States, Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September instead of on May 1. This Labor Day was a creation of the 1880s Knights of Labor and was adopted officially in 1887 in the U.S. in an attempt to disassociate labor activism from the radical left. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed May 1st both as Loyalty Day and as Law Day[citation needed]. Each year, the sitting president proclaims these observances on May 1.

Canada follows a similar course. While Labour Day parades and picnics are organized by unions, many Canadians simply regard Labour Day as the Monday of the last long weekend of summer. Non-union celebrations include picnics, fireworks displays, water activities, and public art events. Families with school-age children take it as the last chance to travel before the end of summer. Some teenagers and young adults view it as the last weekend for parties before returning to school.

In a separate May Day-related proclamation, the Roman Catholic Church added another Saint Joseph's Day in 1955 that Christianized 1 May as the day of "Saint Joseph, the Worker". Saint Joseph is the only patron saint of "people fighting communism".[1]

In Poland, May 1 was renamed "State Holiday" in 1990; see: Holidays in Poland.

[edit] Traditional May Day celebrations

Morris dancing on May Day, Oxford 2004.
Morris dancing on May Day, Oxford 2004.

May Day is a cross-quarter day, associated with the Celtic festival of Beltane and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night. May Day falls exactly half of a year from November 1, another cross-quarter day which is also associated with various northern European pagan and neopagan festivals such as Samhain. May Day marks the end of the uncomfortable winter half of the year in the Northern hemisphere, and it has traditionally been an occasion for popular and often raucous celebrations, regardless of the locally prevalent political or religious establishment.

As Europe became Christianized, the pagan holidays lost their religious character and either morphed into popular secular celebrations, as with May Day, or were given new Christian interpretations while retaining many traditional pagan features, as with Christmas, Easter, and All Saint's Day. Beginning in the 20th century, many neopagans began reconstructing the old traditions and celebrating May Day as a pagan religious festival once more.

[edit] United Kingdom

Roodmas was an explicitly Christian mass celebrated in Britain at midnight on May 1, presumably to diminish the popularity of traditional Walpurgis Night celebrations.

[edit] England

"May Day" by Kate Greenaway
"May Day" by Kate Greenaway

Traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen, celebrating Green Man day and dancing around a Maypole. Much of this tradition derives from the pagan festival of Beltane. May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries. It is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility and revelry with fetes and community gatherings. Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the May Pole, around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons. The May Day Bank Holiday was traditionally the only one to affect the state school calendar, although new arrangements in some areas to even out the length of school terms mean that the Good Friday and Easter Monday Bank Holidays, which vary from year to year, may also fall during term time.

Also, the 1 May 1707, was the day the Act of Union came into effect, joining England and Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.

[edit] Cornwall

Padstow in Cornwall holds its annual 'Obby-Oss' day of festivities. This is believed to be one of the oldest fertility rites in the country; revellers dance with the Oss through the streets of the town and even through the private gardens of the citizens, accompanied by accordion players and followers dressed in white with red or blue sashes who sing the traditional 'May Day' song. The whole town is decorated with springtime greenery, and every year thousands of onlookers attend. Prior to the 19th century May Day distinctive May day celebrations were widespread through out West Cornwall.

[edit] Oxford

In Oxford on May Morning, many pubs are open from sunrise, and some of the college bars are open all night. Madrigals are still sung from the roof of the tower of Magdalen College, with thousands gathering on Magdalen Bridge to listen. Traditionally, revellers have jumped from the bridge into the River Cherwell below as part of the celebrations. About one hundred people did this in 2005. The river, however, was then only three feet deep in places and more than half of those who jumped needed medical treatment, suffering injuries ranging from broken ankles and legs to back injuries and large gashes on the bottom of feet. As a result, the bridge itself was closed to the public during the 2006 celebrations.

[edit] Scotland

St Andrews has a similar student tradition — some of the students gather on the beach late on April 30 and run into the North Sea at sunrise on the 1st, occasionally naked. This is accompanied by torchlit processions and much celebration.

[edit] Germany

In rural regions of Germany, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of maypoles, and young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air, wurst and beer. Motto: "Tanz in den Mai!" ("Dance into May!").

[edit] The Americas

May Day festivities at National Park Seminary in Maryland, 1907.
May Day festivities at National Park Seminary in Maryland, 1907.

May Day was also celebrated by some early European settlers of the American continent. In some parts of the United States, May Day baskets are made. These baskets are small and usually filled with treats are left at someone's doorstep. When you ring the bell, you are supposed to run away. If you are caught then the other person gets to kiss you.

In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day, and is normally set aside as a day to celebrate island culture in general and native Hawaiian culture in particular. While it was invented by a poet and a local newspaper columnist in the 1920s, it has since been adopted by state and local government as well as by the residents, and has taken on a sense of general spring celebration there. The first Lei Day was proposed in 1927 in Honolulu. Leonard "Red" and Ruth Hawk composed "May Day is Lei Day in Hawai'i," the traditional holiday song. Originally it was a contemporary fox trot, later rearranged as the Hawaiian hula song performed today.

Modern May Day ceremonies in the U.S. vary greatly from region to region and many unite both the holiday's "Green Root" (pagan) and "Red Root" (labor) traditions.[citation needed] Among the largest is the May Day Parade and Pageant created by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, an event that has happened every year since 1974 in Minneapolis and now attracts some 35,000 people.

[edit] See also

GDR's stamp of 1.Mai
GDR's stamp of 1.Mai

[edit] External links