May 01, 2012

May Day. Who Knew?

The Basics
Did you know that today is May Day? Apparently, as Americans, we're a little out of the loop on all that May Day represents. On my way into work this morning, when I remembered that today is May Day, I decided to do some May Day research with my students. I learned a lot more than I expected to.

I already knew the basics. May Day, or Beltane, was originally a pagan holiday in the British Isles celebrated by druids. It sounds like kind of a celebration of the new year. It centered around lighting a fire. (I knew this part already from the book I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. One of my favorite books and definitely worth the read.) The fire was supposed to give life to the springtime sunshine.

Then the Romans joined in with the May Day celebrations and many of the traditions were combined with a holiday called Floralia, a day devoted to worshiping the goddess Flora.

I also know, that May Day ties in with fertility, but I'm not sure if that is from the British influence or the Roman influence, or both.

Puritanical influence weakened the strength of May Day celebrations, and it became more of a time to celebrate spring and have fun.

I knew about May Poles, which are a tradition that has hung on and at one point became the symbol of the French Revolution. This seems to be the only May Day tradition that is still sometimes done here in America.

Really?
So all that I kind of knew already, or was at least aware of, but I didn't know about Loyalty Day, Labor Day, Law Day, or May Day in Hawaii.

Loyalty Day Apparently, Americans (obviously not this one) use May Day as a day to celebrate loyalty to our country. Groups such as Boy Scouts and veterans visit shrines and celebrate patriots. It sounds like this was started in the 1930s when we were so afraid of Communism taking root in America.

Labor Day During the United States labor movement in the 19th century, many strikes were called on May Day. This, among other things, led to the day now being celebrated by laborers particularly by labor unions and socialists.

Law Day In 1958 President Eisenhower established Law Day. Congress declared May 1st Law Day in 1961 and people were urged by President Kennedy to observe it. In 2010, President Obama issues a proclamation encouraging people to set aside May 1st as a day to "acknowledge the importance of our Nation's legal and judicial systems."

May Day in Hawaii or Lei Day seems to have no actual connection to May Day in the UK or America other than being celebrated on the same day. Hawaiians give each other leis and have pageants with a Lei Queen and court to celebrate summer.

So, all this to say that I learned something new today! If you want to learn more, I checked out these links:

http://www.theholidayspot.com/mayday/history.htm
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/01/may-day-history-international-workers-day

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