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Looking forward to celebrating May Day on May 1, 2021 this year? We know we are! Looking back at past decades, May has had different meanings for diverse cultures and countries. Today, specifically in the United States as other countries, it is a celebration of the season of Spring. We’ve got the best tips to make sure that your May Day is one to remember!
May Day is a public holiday celebrated on May 1 in many different cultures around the world. It is a day of unity, togetherness, and rebirth; a day for everyone to come together and celebrate life as we know it!
When is May Day 2021?
A plethora of observances and celebrations take place on May Day on May 1.
History of May Day
Throughout the years and decades, there have been different meanings, festivities, and representations of May Day. The meaning of seasonal change has been the most significant one amongst different countries.
May Day is one of the four ancient Celtic cross-quarter days, making it an astronomical holiday as it falls between the March equinox and June solstice. Originating from its Celtic name, “Belthane,” Beltane was a spring celebration that included dancing, singing, special bonfires, and house doors and animals would be decorated with yellow May flowers and ribbons. During this time, in various communities in Ireland, people would visit special wells and the Bethane dew was believed to bring beauty and youthfulness to those around it.
In the Middle Ages, English villages had homes with maypoles from rejoice and celebrations of May Day. Villagers would go into the woods to find maypoles set up from towns and cities. Because maypoles came in different sizes, villages would compete with each other to see who had the tallest one. People would dance around them because the pole symbolized male fertility as baskets and wreaths symbolized female fertility.
In the 19th century, a new meaning of May Day came about. May Day also became known as International Workers’ Day for labor rights and an eight hour work- day in the United States.
As time went on, different cultures created their own traditions in alignment with their beliefs. Europeans and Americans celebrate May Day with flower crowns, maypole dancing, and by making flower baskets to share with loved ones. In Hawaii, May Day is known as “Lei Day”, a celebration of the aloha spirit and the giving of the flower. What a better way to celebrate than with the people you love!
May Day timeline
May Day also becomes known as a labor holiday called International Workers’ Day.
Labor Day becomes a national holiday in the United States.
Turkey attempts to ban labor rallies on International Workers’ Day due to violence taking place in the marches and riots.
Violence erupts amongst police officers and protestors who ignored a government ban on marching in Istanbul, Turkey to Taksim Square.
Traditions of the Day
May Day is marked with rich celebrations of culture and folklore throughout history, welcoming the return of spring! There are many fun traditions that have persisted over time, like creating delightful little baskets with sweets and flowers. These baskets were sometimes left on the doorsteps of unsuspecting neighbors, with the sender yelling ‘May basket!’ and dashing from the scene.
Celebrating spring also includes singing and dancing around a maypole, mostly at schools. This tradition is still alive in some schools, and children decorate the pole with colorful ribbons and other items. Spring flowers are picked and gifted to loved ones, and although all these traditions have become lesser-known today, they are still cherished and enjoyed by many.
By the Numbers
12 – the number of working hours originally set in the United States before labor protests.
1886 – the year when workers first took to the streets to reduce working hours.
200,000 – the estimated number of people who were present at the 1886 protests in the U.S.
60 – the number of countries around the world that celebrate the holiday.
3 billion – the number of the population of the world employed in 2015.
240 million – the number of the population of the world unemployed in 2015.
30 million – the number of people who work in slavery conditions today.
$32 billion – the number of dollars generated in profit through cheap labor.
10 – the average age of children working in hazardous conditions around the world.
2030 – the year when the total workforce of the world is predicted to increase to 4 billion.
May Day FAQs
What is the connection between International Workers’ Day and Labor Day?
International Workers’ Day was created to honor those who lost their lives at the Haymarket Affair that took place in Chicago. Labor Day was created as a way to distance itself from what happened on May 1 of 1886. Today, people celebrate Labor Day every year.
Why is fertility important to May Day?
Spring is believed to be a time when fertility is high amongst men and women because of the temperature change in weather and the feeling of celebration.
What are the best ways to celebrate May Day?
There are so many ways to celebrate May Day, big and small! Today, people celebrate May Day by making flower crowns and baskets, planting flowers for the spring, decorating their homes in bright colors to embrace the change, nature walks, picnics, and enjoying the outdoors!
May Day Activities
Maypole Dance, dance away!
Celts used to dance around trees with bright ribbons as a way to welcome in good crops and fertility. Today, schools celebrate the Maypole Dance through spring festivals.
Make a May basket
Through the 19th and 20th century, people would leave a paper basket with spring flowers and treats on their neighbor’s doorsteps. The tradition was to knock on the door, yell “May basket!,” and then run.
On May Day, people in Britain welcome spring by getting flowering trees for their homes. This symbolizes the return of spring.
5 Facts About May Day
It has made a huge impact today
Today, May Day is very popular! It is known as an official holiday in 66 countries and unofficially celebrated in more countries.
It’s connected to astronomy
May 1 is one of the four cross-quartered days, midday between an equinox and solstice. What a time to celebrate!
It has a different name in Hawaii
May Day is known as Lei Day in Hawaii. It’s a celebration of the aloha spirit and giving of the flower.
May Day is connected to the festival of Floralia to honor spring. Floralia was the goddess of springtime in Rome.
The meaning of “Mayday” is different from its origin
“Mayday!” comes from the French phrase, M’aidez!, which means “Help me!.”
Why We Love May Day
It’s a significant time of the seasons changing
May 1, as well as the entire month, is a time of flowers blooming, trees returning to life, birds singing, and animals coming out of hibernation. Nature becomes beautiful again!
It promotes unity
How can you have May Day without unity and togetherness? People all over the world celebrate May Day through singing, dancing, flowers, baskets and other traditions. Regardless of race and culture, people come together as one in celebration.
International Workers’ Day
In May 1886, a national strike was organized in the United States to promote an eight hour work day for citizens. A protest in Chicago’s Haymarket Square turned violent and to pay tribute to those involved, the International Socialist Conference made May 1 also known as International Workers’ Day.
May Day dates