From the fires of Beltane to the display of military strength in Soviet Russia, May Day has always been a special occasion around the world.
And what a beautiful May Day it is!
While the Spring Equinox is officially in March, the time around of the first of May has historically been celebrated among those in the Northern Hemisphere as the first heralding of warm weather, and with good reason.
I can’t imagine winter during the early times of man to be a happy experience. Food was scarce, your minimal home was probably drafty, we won’t even get into how disease in the winter claimed half of the village.
The first warm days of spring generally hit the tribes about now, and Ancient Man was quite joyful. It meant sex, food and easier hunting.
The Celtic Druids celebrated with a fest called Beltane, which involved bonfires, walking their cattle between the fires for protection, and a giant pole, which represented, you know, fertility (wink, wink). And you thought pole dancing was a modern day invention! Plus, I’m sure there was a local ale or two being imbibed.
Dancing through the fires, the Druids would also purify themselves, and the tradition has been reemerging in several European countries, where I’m positive a lot of ale is being consumed.
The English extended the celebration to include flowers to ward off evil spirits (which were apparently as prevalent as terrorists are to us), extending the pole, now officially the Maypole, and even naming a May Queen (as you may know from “Stairway To Heaven”).
But all that sex talk and fun stuff was frowned upon by the increasing Puritans in England. They wanted none of that pole dancing stuff and by 1644 they outlawed it, and since the Puritans kind of had a hand in founding America, they banned it from the New Country as well, which is why May Day never became huge in the US of A. (Although we did figure out a way to get pole dancing into the culture, didn’t we?)
The Irish, however, kept the tradition alive, simply by making May Day all about the Mary, the mother of Jesus. With the church’s blessing, the day became a religious holiday in the Catholic Church. While the holiday is no longer celebrated on May 1, the month of May is still set aside in honor of the Blessed Virgin. May 1 now honors Joseph, Mary’s husband, for reasons about to be discussed.
Things shifted from the religious to the cause of labor in the late 19th century, when worker’s protesting for an eight hour workday, were fired upon by the police in Chicago, killing four (To be fair, someone threw a bomb at police first). Known as the Haymarket Riots, the event was memorialized on May 1, and protests continued on that day to achieve that long sought eight hour workday.
The International Workers Day gained international traction, and May 1 is Labor Day throughout most of the world. Here In America, growing resentment to Unions and their socialist tendencies forced President Grover Cleveland to move Labor Day to September.That didn’t stop Labor protests country wide and world wide from embracing the May Day holiday.
Socialist and Communist countries world wide grasped May Day as their kind of secular feast, and after World War II, most of them, Soviet Russia in particular decided May Day would be a good day to waltz their vast armies down the main drag of the capitol of the country to show off their military might.
This caused the USA to have a backlash, and May 1 was (and still is in some communities) according to Mental Floss to be Loyalty Day:
…a day during which all Americans, even disgruntled workers, are to remember their vows to the Nation — which should trump any allegiance to those insidious international rebel alliances.