* holidays May Day boys' dancing costumes: Maypole dancing

Holidays: May Day

Figure 1.--These Canadian children are holding a traditional May Day celebration, complete with dancing around the Maypole.

May Day is celebrated around the world. Traditional May Day celebrations were pre-Christian agricultural festivals. Eventually the significance was lost and the practices survived merely as popular festivities. It is a festival of happiness, joy and the coming of summer. Many schools around the world use the observance of May Day as a rich source of multicultural activities that can complement the May curriculum. Dancing around the Maypole is an often popular activity for the younger children, although the boys may need a little encouragement. In the late-19th century May Day also became known internationally as Labor Day. Socialists and Communists adopted it as a kind of left-wing celebration. After the Russian Revolution, May Day became an opportunity for an annual display of Soviet military strength. Thus May Day gradually became a highly politically charged holiday.

May Day Spring Celebrations

May day is the only major festival of pre-Christian Europe that was not adapted by the Christian church for its own purposes. Part of a yearly cycle that includes midwinter and harvest celebrations, it stands midway between the long, cold nights of winter and the days of plenty at summers end, with symbolism and ceremony that reflects its pivotal position. Across Europe the key symbol of the day is fresh spring growth, and the general hope is for fecundity. Traditionally, youths spent the eve of May Day in neighbouring woods and awoke the villagers the next morning by visiting each house, singing a traditional carol and bearing garlands of fresh leaves and flowers. Or they might disguise one of their number as Jack-in-the-Green by enshrouding him with a portable bower of fresh greenery. Jack and his followers danced around the town collecting money from passersby for later feasting. In many villages these young people also cut down trees, which they then erected as maypoles in the village centres. Each pole served as a gathering place for community dances and activities. Traditional dramas enacted on May Day in many European countries commemorated the triumph of summer over winter, while in England the focus was on dancing and pageantry. Youths elected a king and queen of the May to preside over the day's proceedings; sometimes they dressed as Robin Hood and Maid Marian, with members of their entourage representing Friar Tuck, Little John, and Robin's other merry men. Although the origins of May Day are unknown, what is known of its history is suggestive. The festival is not based on a magical ritual to secure the fertility of the crops, as once thought, but instead is a community expression of hope and joy. The emphasis has always been social solidarity, and not the supernatural or the metaphysical.

Labor Day

Lanbor Day is celebrated around the world on May 1--except in the United States. It is a highly politicized event. May Day has been made a national holiday throughout Europe, but countries differeed widely as to when it was made n official holiday. This was something Socialists throughout Europe demanded beginning in the late-19th century. Governments often resisted the demand. It was made a holiday in the Soviet Union after the Revolution and it was in the Soviet Union that the largest May Day parades were held.

National Celebrations

A variety of customs associated with traditional May Day and the Maypole have developed in different, mostly European countries and the United Sttaes. We do not know very much about the traditionalmcelebrationsd, but with the development of pgography in the moid-19th century we have found outbquite a nit about thr celebratiionjs in the late-19th and 20th century. There are many similarities and also differebces from country. The connecting link is the season. May Day is a spring festival and thus a celebvratioin of the earh emerging from winter. This greenery and flowers are va common thread. We notice that the celebration of traditional May Day was particularly popular in Britain. The celebration of May Day as a workers/socialist holiday is a more recent phenomenon and especial probounced in socialist countries.

May Day Trivia

Traditional May Day celebrations were pre-Christian agricultural festivals. Eventually the significance was lost and the practices survived merely as popular festivities. A widespread superstition held that washing the face in the May Day morning dew would beautify the skin. In Hawaii, May Day is Lei Day. Everyone gives the gift of a lei to another, putting it around the receiver's neck and accompanying it with the traditional kiss. Lei Day began in 1928. Some Hawaiian celebrations are complete with pageants, a Lei Queen and her court. In 1889, a congress of world Socialist parties held in Paris voted to support the U.S. labor movement's demand for an 8-hour day. It chose May 1, 1890, as a day of demonstrations in favor of the 8-hour day. Afterward, May 1 became a holiday called Labor Day in many nations. It resembles the September holiday in the U.S. The holiday is especially important in socialist and Communist countries--when political demonstrations are held.

May Day Singing

Some popular May Day songs include:

May Flowers (Tune: "The Mulberry Bush")
Shout hurray for the flowers of May, Flowers of May, flowers of May. Shout hurray for the flowers of May, Pretty springtime flowers! Let's all play in the flowers of May, Flowers of May, flowers of May. Let's all play in the flowers of May, Pretty springtime flowers! --Jean Warren

May Day's Here (Tune: "Three Blind Mice")
May Day's here, May Day's here, Sun shines bright, sun shines bright. Birds and butterflies are in flight, Blooming flowers--such a sight! Everything feels just right. May Day's here! --Kristine Wagoner

Ring Around the Maypole (Tune: "Ring Around the Rosie")
Ring around the maypole, (Join hands with others and move in a circle.) Pocket full of roses. Ribbons, ribbons, We all fall down! (Drop to floor.) --Toni Lenhardt

May Basket (Tune: "Did You Every See a Lassie?")
Did you ever see a May basket, A May basket, a May basket? Did you ever see a May basket That looked so good? I worked for hours, Then filled it with flowers. Did you ever see a May basket That looked so good? --Jean Warren

May Poles

Dancing Costumes


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Created: November 20, 1999
Last updated: 11:12 PM 8/5/2020