Musings: Two Sides of May Day

Today’s topic is: “How do you celebrate May Day?”

An interesting thing happened when I googled the May 1st holiday, May Day. At first, I found pictures of children dancing around maypoles, but then I came across a long, turbulent history of international protests and demonstrations in support of labor unions and the working classes. I never realized there were two completely different holidays celebrated on the same day.

(A quick aside: “Mayday mayday mayday,” the distress call, is something else entirely. According to mental_floss magazine, it originated from the French m’aider, a shortened version of venez m’aider meaning ‘come and help me’.)

Celebration of Spring

“Dances, singing, and cake” is how Wikipedia describes the northern hemisphere’s May 1st celebration of spring. (That sounds like any given Tuesday in our house!) Of course, I have heard of dancing around the maypole, but I don’t think I’ve ever participated and I’m not entirely sure of its purpose.


However, after the long winters that we have here in Minnesota, I’m all for celebrating the unofficial start of Spring!

In certain regions of the U.S., May Day is also the time to create May Baskets. I had never heard of this tradition, but apparently, it happens here in Minnesota. Recently I was reading a Highlights High Five magazine to my daughter and it talked about delivering a surprise basket to a secret admirer (sort of like a ding-dong-dash but with flowers or candy).


International Workers’ Day

I also didn’t know that a large portion of the world (notable exceptions being the US, Canada, and Australia) celebrates Labor Day on May 1st. The date was chosen to commemorate the Haymarket riots that took place after the bombing of a labor demonstration in Chicago, 1886. Many countries recognize May 1st as a national holiday, but even after decades of effort, the U.S. has been unsuccessful in moving the observance of Labor Day from September to May.

Either way, I wish a HAPPY SPRING to everyone north of the equator and HAPPY LABOR DAY to all of my international readers!

~ Phoebe DeCook


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