May Day! May Day!

April 30th, 2020 | By Mindy Timm

May Day…It’s actually a holiday – one of several celebrated each May 1st, depending on where you (and your head) are at in the world. Many of us hear the term “May Day” and think: distress call! It is, of course, that too. “Mayday”, the distress call, comes from the French term m’aidez, which translates to “help me” but has nothing to do with the holidays.

The Welcoming of Summer!

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway. (In May, the Southern Hemisphere is getting ready for winter, so May Day as a seasonal celebration is, for the most part, a Northern Hemisphere thing.) May Day was originally an ancient pagan holiday celebrating the start of summer. In Gaelic traditions, it is known as Beltaine (or the Anglicized “Beltane”). Through the centuries, this celebration was adopted by different cultures and rituals modified to fit the beliefs within those cultures. Europeans and Americans most often celebrate in a secular manner, with traditions such as maypole dancing and wearing flower crowns.

International Workers’ Day

On the less-flowery, more serious side of things, May 1st has been celebrated as International Workers’ Day since the 1880s. (Think of it as sort of a world-wide Labor Day.) At the time, labor movements around the world were fighting for fair work accommodations such as eight-hour workdays and unionization. The date May 1st was chosen because it aligned with the anniversary of the Haymarket Affair in Chicago, where police killed four people at a peaceful protest after someone threw a bomb into the crowd. The Haymarket Affair had a huge impact on labor movements across the world.

 

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