May Day is a celebration on May 1 with a long and varied history. Throughout the years, there have been many different events and festivities worldwide, most with the purpose of welcoming a change of season.
In Europe, May Day was a celebration for the return of spring. The festival likely originated from the Greeks and Romans’ ancient agricultural rituals. Their festivity included the gathering of wildflowers, the weaving of floral garlands, the crowning of a May King or Queen, and the setting of a Maypole to dance around. This rite was intended to ensure fertility in crops, livestock, and humans. It was a grand celebration and party for Europe.
However, the Puritans in New England did not feel the same way. They considered the celebration of May Day to be disorderly and immature. The Puritans forbade honoring the holiday, so it never became a part of American culture until later.
In 19th century America, May Day stood for something different. During the 19th Century, thousands of men, women, and children were dying from poor working conditions. In an attempt to end these inhumane conditions, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions decided “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers walked out on their jobs. Unfortunately, that turned into a riot now known as the Haymarket Riot, and May Day became associated with communism. Although many countries today celebrate Labor Day on May 1, the U.S. refuses and instead celebrates their Labor Day on the first Monday of September.
The U.S. eventually adopted Europe’s May Day, a celebration of the return of spring. However, they do not make it quite as grand. Americans make small baskets of candy and popcorn for friends and neighbors. They leave them on the doorstep, ring the bell, and run away.
Overall, May Day is a popular holiday celebrated in many countries. It originated in a few different ways, and each way is still celebrated worldwide. Whether it is celebrated as a labor day, fertility festival, or a simple ding-dong ditch, the world all agrees it is a day meant to be honored.
History.com Editors. “May Day.” HISTORY, May 2017, www.history.com/topics/holidays/history-of-may-day. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.