May Day is one of the biggest holidays in the world, despite being unknown in the U.S and Canada. While it pops out images of maypoles and folk dances, May Day has gone through some rather thorough transformations over the centuries. It is originally a pagan celebration called Beltane (which translates roughly to “day of fire”). May Day is commonly known as “Labor Day” or “International Workers’ Day” in many countries, and organized street demonstrations and marches by working people and their labor unions often happens during that day.
May Day Facts
Fact #1: In particular countries like Hungary, Poland and other East European nations, May Day is considered a remainder of the Communist era, when party leaders greeted crowds of workers.
Fact #2: May Day’s pagan name is ‘Beltane’, which means ‘day of fire’. It was meant to mark the coming of summer and fertility. Beltane was an important festival in the Celtic calendar, while a similar celebration called ‘Floralia’ was marked on the calendar of the Romans. Over time, the rituals of Beltane and Floralia were overlapped and are still practiced today.
Fact #3: In many countries, May 1st is known as Labor Day after the U.S made a movement to establish an eight-hour work day (as opposed to 10 hours or more) during 19th century. Today, lots of parades, speeches, and protests occur on May 1st in different nations — but peculiarly not in the U.S. where the rallying originally began.
Fact #4: Maypoles are a very old tradition when it comes to May Day, and many people believe that maypole dancing is a fertility ritual. It is considered that the first maypoles were erected after the loss of the Romans in the British Isles, and that the maypole is a Germanic tradition.
Fact #5: On May 1st, 1977, Turkey’s Revolutionary Confederation of Labor Unions arranged a May Day demonstration that took place on Taksim Square, Istanbul. The demonstration soon turned violent, and had tremendous impacts around the world. Thirty-six people were killed, hundreds were injured and 453 people were detained.
Fact #6: On April 30, many central Europe and Scandinavian nations celebrate “Walpurgis Night,” in honor of St. Walburga (or Walpurga), an English-born nun who is believed to have cured the diseases of many local residents. Many of the holiday’s customs date back to pagan celebrations of fertility rights and the coming of spring.
Fact #7: During the medieval ages in England, May Day was considered the time of “bringing in the May,” or gathering greens and flowers. It remains a key holiday throughout United Kingdom.
Written By: Maghfira Hatmaranti