What does May Day really mean? it depends on whom you ask. Perhaps a celebration of spring. Or a Christian holiday. Or maybe a day to honor workers. But it’s certainly not Labor Day. Different countries, religions, and politicians have put their own spin on May Day’s original connection to fertility and rebirth. Simply put, May Day on May 1 means a lot of things.
Maybe the 1960s-era hippies had the right idea by wresting May Day from the Soviet show of military might and the Catholic Church’s reverence to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Instead, they created a whole “flowers in your hair” maypole dancing celebration of the rejuvenating power of nature’s rebirth each spring. Whatever your political leanings or religious beliefs, May Day is a good time to set aside differences and celebrate all that we have in common.
May Day Activities
Traditionally, a gift of a “May basket” containing a small plant or some flowers was given to a neighbor. In France it would be a lily of the valley as decreed by King Charles in the 16th century. This was often anonymously left at their front door as a celebration of spring. Today a small cutting or plant division from your garden would be a nice way to revitalize that tradition.
Most common of the old traditions is a May Dance, where young people holding colorful ribbons attached to the top of a maypole dance around the pole weaving in and out. The boys go in one direction and the girls in another until they are pulled together as the ribbons wrap around the pole.
Take the day off
That’s right. Show solidarity with the workers and policemen who died in the violence surrounding the first strikes for a safe work environment, known as the Haymarket Affair. Your work is not the 16-hour-per-day, seven-day-a-week nightmare they were protesting, but eight hours off is enough time to show support.
Why We Love May Day
Agrarian societies followed the seasons closely by necessity. In the northern hemisphere, winter’s end brought the new life of spring, and May Day was cause for celebration — a release from the harsh winter into the bounty that would be summer.
Since its religious (pagan) origins, May Day, (and the month of May in general) was incorporated into Christian beliefs as a day to celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, and motherhood in general. It is no coincidence that modern Mother's Day falls in early May, or that we anthropomorphize nature as Mother Nature.
This is how we revere motherhood, fertility and birth.
Many countries celebrate May Day as a worker’s holiday, with some celebrations amounting to massive military parades while others are more benign. Labor Day, or "International Workers' Day," as May Day is alternately known, originated in the U.S. in 1886 with massive labor strikes demanding an eight-hour workday and safe working conditions in the factories.