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May Day Celebration

May Day occurs on May 1 and refers to any of several public holidays in many countries.[1] May Day is synonymous with International Workers' Day, or Labour Day, which celebrates the social and economic achievements of the labor movement. As a day of celebration, however, the holiday has ancient origins and can relate to many customs that have survived into modern times. Many of these customs are due to May Day being a cross-quarter day, meaning that it falls approximately halfway between a solstice and an equinox.
Origins
The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian Europe, as in the Celtic celebration of Beltane, and the Walpurgis Night of the Germanic countries. Many pre-Christian indigenous celebrations were eventually banned or Christianized during the process of Christianization in Europe. As a result, a more secular version of the holiday continued to be observed in the schools and churches of Europe well into the 20th century. In this form, May Day may be best known for its tradition of dancing the Maypole and crowning of the Queen of the May. Today various Neopagan groups celebrate reconstructed (to varying degrees) versions of these customs on 1 May.
The day was a traditional summer holiday in many pre-Christian European pagan cultures. While February 1 was the first day of Spring (season), May 1 was the first day of summer; hence, the summer solstice on June 25 (now June 21) was Midsummer. In the Roman Catholic tradition, May is observed as Mary's month, and in these circles May Day is usually a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this connection, in works of art, school skits, and so forth, Mary's head will often be adorned with flowers. Fading in popularity since the late 20th century is the giving of "May baskets," small baskets of sweets and/or flowers, usually left anonymously on neighbors' doorsteps.[2]
International Workers' Day
Approximately 700,000 people at May Day concert in Rome
Approximately 700,000 people at May Day concert in Rome [3]
May Day also refers to various labor celebrations conducted on May 1 that commemorate the fight for the eight hour day. May Day in this regard is called International Workers' Day, or Labour Day, and is a commemoration for those involved in the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago, Illinois. As the culmination of three days of labor unrest in the United States, the Haymarket incident was a source of outrage and admiration from people around the globe. In countries other than the United States and Canada, residents sought to make May Day an official holiday and their efforts largely succeeded. For this reason, in most of the world today, May Day has become an international celebration of the social and economic achievements of the labor movement. In some European countries, working people continue to use May Day parades as an opportunity to show disapproval with the government or to protest cuts in social programs. Although May Day had its origins in the United States, the U.S. Congress designated May 1 as Loyalty Day in 1958 due to the day's appropriation by the Soviet Union.[4] Alternatively, Labor Day traditionally occurs sometime in September in the United States.
Traditional May Day celebrations
May Day marks the end of the uncomfortable winter half of the year in the Northern hemisphere, and it has traditionally been an occasion for popular and often raucous celebrations, regardless of the locally prevalent political or religious establishment.
As Europe became Christianized, the pagan holidays lost their religious character and either morphed into popular secular celebrations, as with May Day, or were replaced by new Christian holidays, as with Christmas, Easter, and All Saint's Day. Beginning in the 20th century, many neopagans began reconstructing the old traditions and celebrating May Day as a pagan religious festival once more.
United Kingdom
Roodmas was an explicitly Christian Mass celebrated in England at midnight on May 1, presumably to diminish the popularity of traditional Walpurgis Night celebrations.
England
Morris dancing on May Day, Oxford 2004.
Morris dancing on May Day, Oxford 2004.
Traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen and celebrations involving a Maypole. Much of this tradition derive from the pagan Anglo-Saxon customs held during "Þrimilci-mōnaþ"[5] (the Old English name for the month of May meaning Month of Three Milkings).
May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries. It is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings. Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the Maypole, around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons.
The May Day Bank Holiday was traditionally the only one to affect the state school calendar, although new arrangements in some areas to even out the length of school terms mean that the Good Friday and Easter Monday Bank Holidays, which vary from year to year, may also fall during term time.
Also, 1 May 1707 was the day the Act of Union came into effect, joining England and Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.
Maydayrun is an annual event held in England among countries that celebrate their bank holidays on the first Monday in May. It is also referred to as "MayDay Run" or "May Day Run" as well. The event involves thousands of motorbikes taking a 55-mile (89 km) trip from the south of London (Locksbottom, Farnborough, Kent) to Hastings Seafront (Hastings, East Sussex). The event has been taking place for over 40 years now and has grown in interest from around the country, both commercially and publicly. The event is not officially organised; the police only manage the traffic, while volunteers manage the parking.
Hastings fills up with tourists and bikes by about 11 AM, and the A21 from Kent to East Sussex is the road the bikers travel. However, this road should be avoided if traveling in a car.
A good example of more traditional May Day festivities are still witnessed in Whitstable, Kent where the Jack in the Green festival was revived in 1976 and continues to lead an annual procession of morris dancers through the town on the May Bank Holiday. A separate revival occurred in Hastings in 1983 and has become a major event in the town calendar. Padstow also holds its annual 'Obby 'Oss festival. A traditional Sweeps Festival is performed over the May bank holiday in Rochester, Kent where the Jack In the Green is woken at dawn on the 1st of May by Morris dancers.
Oxford
In Oxford on May Morning, many pubs are open from sunrise, and some of the college bars are open all night. Many Oxford University students attend one of the May balls* to celebrate the traditional start of the spring (season). The balls are followed by Madrigals, sung from the roof of the tower of Magdalen College, with thousands gathering on Magdalen Bridge to listen to the Choir of Magdalen College, and then bells that follow their singing. There is a long-standing tradition of revellers jumping from the bridge into the River Cherwell below as part of the celebrations, although with the decreasing depth of the river around the bridge, it has been closed off in recent years. The festivities are followed by Morris dancing and partying in the streets, usually until 10 or 11 AM.
  • May Balls are held at Cambridge University, and Commem (Commemoration) Balls are held at Oxford University. They are held to celebrate the end of the examinations, the end of the academic year, the awarding of degrees and the end of the rowing bumps (and hence the end of the training period for oarsmen). They now occur in June. The May Balls at Cambridge are held by each college separately. They start with dinner served in your room by the college staff, if required, several bands for dancing in full formal ball regalia, tails and white ties or the very colorful college sports blazers, and the ladies in ball gowns, and cabarets, amidst great decorations and lighting. Lastly, it is traditional to punt up the River Cam to Grantchester for breakfast.
Cornwall
Padstow in Cornwall holds its annual 'Obby-Oss' day of festivities. This is believed to be one of the oldest fertility rites in the UK; revellers dance with the Oss through the streets of the town and even through the private gardens of the citizens, accompanied by accordion players and followers dressed in white with red or blue sashes who sing the traditional 'May Day' song. The whole town is decorated with springtime greenery, and every year thousands of onlookers attend. Prior to the 19th century distinctive May day celebrations were widespread throughout West Cornwall and have recently been revived in St. Ives and in 2008 will be revived in Penzance.
Kingsand, Cawsand and Millbrook in Cornwall celebrate Black Prince Day on the May Day bank holiday. A model of the ship The Black Prince is covered in flowers and is taken in procession from the Quay at Millbrook to the beach at Cawsand where it is cast adrift. The houses in the villages are decorated with flowers and people traditionally wear red and white clothes. There are further celebrations in Cawsand Square with Morris dancing and May pole dancing.
The May Day traditions of Cornwall, likely derive mainly from Celtic traditions.
Scotland
Students gather on Castle Sands, St Andrews for the may dip in 2007
Students gather on Castle Sands, St Andrews for the may dip in 2007
St Andrews has a similar student tradition — some of the students gather on the beach late on April 30 and run into the North Sea at sunrise on the 1st, occasionally naked. This is accompanied by torchlit processions and much elated celebration.
In Edinburgh, the Beltane Fire Festival is held on the evening of May eve and into the early hours of May Day on the city's Calton Hill.
Both Edinburgh and Glasgow organize Mayday festivals and rallies.
Mainland Europe
France
On May 1st, 1561, French King Charles IX of France received a lily of the valley as a lucky charm. He decided to offer a lily of the valley each year to the ladies of the court. At the beginning of the 20th century, it became custom on the 1st of May, to give a sprig of lily of the valley, a symbol of springtime. The government permits individuals and workers' organisations to sell them free of taxation.
Germany
In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of Pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of maypoles, and young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air, wurst and beer. Motto: "Tanz in den Mai!" ("Dance into May!"). In the Rhineland, a region in the western part of Germany, May 1 is also celebrated by the deliverance of a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike.
Pacific
In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day, and is normally set aside as a day to celebrate island culture in general and native Hawaiian culture in particular. While it was invented by a poet and a local newspaper columnist in the 1920s, it has since been adopted by state and local government as well as by the residents, and has taken on a sense of general spring celebration there. The first Lei Day was proposed in 1927 in Honolulu. Leonard "Red" and Ruth Hawk composed "May Day is Lei Day in Hawai'i," the traditional holiday song. Originally it was a contemporary fox trot, later rearranged as the Hawaiian hula song performed today.
Americas
May Day festivities at National Park Seminary in Maryland, 1907.
May Day festivities at National Park Seminary in Maryland, 1907.
May Day was also celebrated by some early European settlers of the American continent. In some parts of the United States, May Day baskets are made. These baskets are small and usually filled with flowers or treats are left at someone's doorstep. When you ring the bell, you are supposed to run away.
Modern May Day ceremonies in the U.S. vary greatly from region to region and many unite both the holiday's "Green Root" (pagan) and "Red Root" (labor) traditions[6] Among the largest is the May Day Parade and Pageant created by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, an event that has happened every year since 1974 in Minneapolis and now attracts some 35,000 people.

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