You might celebrate May Day by dancing around with flowers in your hair. Or you might celebrate it by marching down the street as a worker or an immigrant to stand up for your rights and fight oppression. Or you might send out a distress signal if you’re at sea and pirates attack – May Day! May Day! (which comes from the French m’aidez – help me!). Where did a holiday with such a wide range of meanings originate?
The roots of May Day go deep into the earth and way back in time to the ancient Celts and Saxons celebrating Beltane, the day of fire. It was a feast of fertility and bonfires to call back the sun after the long cold winter and prepare the ground for planting. A May Queen was chosen and young men and women danced around the May Pole romantically entwining long ribbons from the pole as they danced. When the church arrived in Britain, this was of course banned. Then reinstated, then banned. It’s had a sketchy history. The Puritans hated it but it kept coming back. So it got kind of toned it down in this country as the Puritans tried to turn it into a playful holiday for children.
But then in the US and Canada, May Day became a working class holiday after the national strikes of May 1, 1886, calling for eight hour workdays. In Chicago, the police attacked the marchers, killing six of them. The next day as the workers marched again in Haymarket Square to protest police brutality, a bomb exploded in the midst of the police, killing eight of them. The police arrested eight trade unionists claiming they threw the bomb, a charge that was never proven. Some said that the bomb was dropped by an agent provacateur of the police trying to run away after being recognized by the crowd. Despite not being able to prove that they had anything to do with the bomb, four of the anarchists were found guilty and executed by the state of Illinois.
In Paris, in 1889, the First International proclaimed May 1 as an international workers holiday in memory of the Haymarket Martyrs and the red flag became a symbol of the blood of the martyrs for worker’s rights. For a list of IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) May Day events from Edinburgh to New York City to San Francisco go here:
In Salem and Portland, Oregon – March and Rally for Immigrant and Workers’ Rights: Economic Justice for All! For more information go here:
I like this is version of May Day from In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre http://www.hobt.org in Minneapolis Minnesota:
Our MayDay Parade, Ceremony, and Festival has always been rooted in two important traditional celebrations—the celebration of the “GREEN ROOT” of Earth’s green energy rising in Spring, and the “RED ROOT” of human work energy rising from mind, heart and hand.
Our theme this year celebrates the merging of the red and green energies of the world. We cheer on the great merging of the human social justice movements with the environmental movements to remember humans as responsible relatives of the earth.
As we experience the fall of our economic systems built on debt, consumer waste, the theft and sickening of earth resources, we gather to rebuild an economic system that protects and sustains our Earth as a “Common Treasury for All.”
Traditional May Day song:
The fires light, this merry night, upon the first of May,
We’ll merry meet, and summer greet, now Winter’s gone away.
Chorus: Beltane Night, the time is right, the life-force doth awake.
So dance and sing, around the ring, and Summer magic make.
The gorse and broom and heather bloom, and goodly grows the grain.
In every tree, new life we see. The summer comes again.
New life’s alive, in every hive; new nests in every tree.
Be free and fair, like earth and air, like bird, and hare, and bee