Have you ever wondered why we have a Bank Holiday at the beginning of May? Well it’s a historical celebration called May Day! Traditionally, May Day is celebrated on 1 May, but in the UK the bank holiday is held on the first Monday of the month. And while for many, May Day is simply associated with the chance to have a lie-in, it actually has a long tradition of political protest.
May Day Protests In the UK, May Day has become linked to International Workers’ Day, known as Labour Day in some countries.
This is a celebration of labourers and the working classes, and in recent years has seen large-scale protests in cities including London, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The History Of May Day May Day has roots in pagan tradition celebrating spring, firstly Floralia, the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers.
It also has roots in the Gaelic celebration of Beltane, marking the beginning of summer. May Day celebrations were banned in Britain by the Puritan government following the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649. They were, however, reinstated with the restoration of Charles II in 1660.
A bank holiday was celebrated in Scotland since 1871 but was only introduced in the rest of the UK in 1978 by the then-employment secretary Michael Foot.
May Day Traditions In some villages, a maypole is erected with ribbons attached. People, often children of the village, dance around the pole. The symbolism of this tradition is hotly debated, with some suggesting the pole represents the Earth’s axis while others claim it is a phallic symbol associated with fertility.
Morris dancers, dressed in traditional costumes and wearing bell pads on their shins, may perform while wielding items such as sticks, swords or handkerchiefs.
Some celebrations may also see a May Queen crowned. Often a young girl wearing white and crowned with flowers, the May Queen may make a speech before leading a procession.
Traditions Around the World Finland: May Day is a drinking day for the Finnish – adults and students alike. A favorite staple drink is a mead, also known as “Sima.”
Germany: Some Germans use chalk to draw a line between their house and their crush’s house, linking their destinies forever (or at least until it rains).
Bulgaria: Irminden, is a May Day tradition where Bulgarians steer clear of the fields for fear of snake bites and generally use whatever methods possible to banish reptiles away from them.
Hawaii: A Lei Queen will be chosen on May Day, similar to a May Queen — only she must possess skills of hula, language, lei-making, and general charisma to stand against the opposition.
Italy: In Assisi, people dress up in traditional dress - including swords and shields for the men - and there are a variety of specific activities to participate in. These include horse riding, crossbow competitions and the election of a Madonna Primavera (Queen of Spring). There are also singing competitions, day and night processions, feasts and flower dances to welcome the new spring and the renewed joy of life.