May Day: From Celebrating Pagan Holidays to Claiming Equal Labor Rights
In this article, we focus on people’s opinions towards the meaning of May Day. The research consisted of an online survey conducted on our platform questia.ro which was active between May 2nd and May 3rd 2018. The survey covered 500 respondents, with a +/- 4% margin of error when reported to the Romanian online population.
The day of First of May is also known around the world as May Day, International Labor Day or Workers’ Day. It is a celebration of the working classes and has its roots in a labor union movement that advocated an eight-hour working day, but not only. On the First of May, spring and fertility are also celebrated, and the date has come to be linked to everything from maypole dancing to anti-capitalist sentiment.
The history of the International Workers' Day started on May 1st, 1886 when labor unions in the United States of America decided to go on a strike demanding that workers should not be allowed to work more than 8 hours a day. This strike was followed by a bomb blast in Chicago's Haymarket Square on the 4th of May, a date chosen by socialist and communist political parties to commemorate the Haymarket affair. This led to the death of several people and police officers. In addition, more than 100 people were injured in the blast. According to Industrial Workers of the World, after these events, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor), proclaimed that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labor from and after May 1, 1886." On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history.
According to CNN, May Day was originally an ancient pagan holiday celebrating the start of summer. It is stated that there were three different celebrations in late April that have merged to give May 1st its special significance:
- Beltane, the Gaelic May Day in Ireland and Scotland, was marking the halfway point between the spring equinox and summer solstice and was celebrated by villagers by performing rituals to protect crops and cattle involving bonfires and an offering of food and drink
- Walpurgis Night is a celebration of the Saint Walpurga in Germany, Finland and Sweden, with a feast on May 1st that included dancing and young women being kissed - and was sometimes seen as a night when witches would await the arrival of spring
- Flora was a Roman festival held in late April to celebrate the goddess of flowers which also marked the arrival of summer
Throughout the years, these celebrations have merged into a general day of festivities observed in Northern Europe, parts of South America and Central America. Since in May the Southern Hemisphere is getting ready for winter, May Day, as a seasonal celebration is, for the most part, a Northern Hemisphere celebration.
According to Express, in the United Kingdom, May Day is celebrated with maypole dancing and crowning the May Queen (making flower crowns). Maypole dancing is believed to be rooted in a pagan tradition of cutting down young trees and sticking them in the ground to mark the arrival of summer and then dancing around them in rival performances between villages. Germans and Austrians celebrate as well with flower garlands and with great feasts, on top. Ring dancing is also observed in Sweden and parts of Finland, while in Hawaii, the day is dedicated to commemorating the island’s culture and is known as Lei Day. Other common rituals include Morris dancing and making flower garlands. Independent reports that Morris dancing is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music, performed by groups of men wearing different colored clothes depending on the part of the country they dance in. In the US, May Day is known as International Workers’ Day and is marking the achievements of workers. May 1st is also a national holiday in Russia and Asian countries such as China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
On May Day, Romanians celebrate the start of the summer, Workers’ Day and in some parts of the country, there are some traditional rituals performed as a form of celebration. On May 1st, Romanians also celebrate the "Arminden", a symbol of vegetation that protects crops and animals. Traditionally, this day is also referred to as "Wormwood Day" and signifies the beginning of summer.
“The day of Arminden” has two distinct variants, one which is pagan, ancient while the other is a legend with Christian reminiscences. Both are based on a green branch that is placed at the house door, window and in some areas in the animal stable as well. This branch has the role to protect the household from ghosts, hail and general bad luck.
70.5% of people resemble May 1st with Workers’ Day (both International and National), while more than a quarter of respondents (25.8%) think of it as the National Labor Day. Also, 16.5% of our respondents consider May Day as Grill Day or a day destined for going out, having a picnic and enjoying the nature. Interestingly, to 9.4% of respondents the first day of May has no meaning.
Most of our responders (66.2%) celebrated the first day of May in one way or another. Next, we will proceed with finding out how they commemorated this day.
Most users (59.5%) spent their First of May at someone’s home (32.9% at their own home, 14.2% at a relative’s home and 10% at a friend’s home), while a little lower than a quarter (20.8%) went on holidays within the country. From the ones who said they spent their May Day elsewhere (14.9%), the most common locations were the park and the city center.
The most popular activity on May Day was cooking grill or having a picnic and was performed by more than three-quarters of our responders (77%).
Also, more than a quarter (36%) went for a hike or for a walk to enjoy the nature.
More than three-quarters of our users (75.1%) spent less than 300 RON on their May Day, with more than a quarter (32.1%) spending less than 100 RON and 43% spending between 100 and 300 RON for this occasion.
Next, we asked those who said they haven’t celebrated May Day in any way what was the reason behind this decision. More than a quarter of them (36.7%) highlighted the fact that they preferred to rest, while 21.9% do not think May Day needs to be celebrated at all. Also, 20.1% of them couldn’t celebrate this day on account of having to work.
As May Day is celebrated for springtime and new beginnings and labor movements around the world, I will end this article with a few quotes that reflect the May Day vibes:
- “As full of spirit as the month of May, and as gorgeous as the sun in Midsummer.” William Shakespeare
- “The world's favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.” Edwin Way Teale
- “May, more than any other month of the year, wants us to feel most alive.” Fennel Hudson
- "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." Confucius
- "It is labor indeed that puts the difference on everything." John Locke
- "We work to become, not to acquire." Elbert Hubbard
- "Work keeps at bay three great evils: boredom, vice and need." Voltaire
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