What is May Day?
It is a lot more than the first day of May. It is a festival to celebrate the coming of Spring– even though astronomically, in the northern hemisphere, Spring arrives over a month prior to the first of May. Nonetheless, people all over the world make a big deal out of May Day as a day to celebrate Spring and the renewal and rebirth that it brings.
When did May Day begin?
Historians trace the roots of May Day back to an ancient Celtic celebration called the Feast of Beltane. Back then May Day was not a celebration of the start of Spring, but of the start of summer. The celebration included the building of huge bonfires, dancing, and the occasional burning of an effigy of a witch.
Later, in Greek and Roman times the Feast of Beltane became less popular and was replaced by the Floralia Festival where celebrations focused on the coming of Spring and on Flora, the mythological Roman goddess of flowers and Spring.
For several centuries leading up to the 20th century, May Day remained a celebration of Spring, rebirth and resurrection. In some cultures it was intertwined with religious celebrations related to Easter. During the 20th century, taking a cue from the United States’ Labor Day holiday, May Day became more than a celebration of Spring in some countries. It became associated with the labor movement. Many countries around the world designed May 1st as a day to celebrate workers and labor unions.
So how is May Day celebrated?
It depends on who is celebrating. When thinking of May Day celebrations, many think about the maypole. A maypole is a tall, wooden pole that is decorated with beautiful flowers and colorful ribbons. In many places around the world including England, on May Day kids grab the ribbons and dance around the maypole.
In other countries, May Day is a public holiday modeled on Labor Day in the United States. Workers have the day off. Led by unions, May Day celebrations include parades, rallies and speeches focused on the contributions of labor to society and on issues important to workers and labor unions.
So what should kids do this May Day?
May Day can be celebrated in many different, creative ways. Although lots of fun, and totally cool, an actual maypole is not required. What is required is fun. Music, a little dancing, beautiful flowers- real or paper– are perfect ingredients for a fun-filled May Day. The burning of effigies is not recommended. 🙂
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