May Day: From the Maypole to the Jail

May 1, 2014
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Today, May 1, is a long-established public holiday in more than 80 countries around the Globe. For some, it is May Day – a joyful spring festival that celebrates the blossoming of nature, summer and love; for others, it is the International Workers’ Day (aka Labor Day) that commemorates the bloody events from May 4, 1886, known as the Haymarket Affair.

In the Northern Hemisphere, May Day has been celebrated since Before Christ. It is related to the festival of Flora (the Roman Goddess of Flowers), the Gaelic Beltane, and the Germanic Walpurgis Night.

Despite not being acclaimed as a public holiday in the United Kingdom, May Day is still celebrated by many Brits. Among the most popular festive traditions count the Maypole Dance (a young tree is stuck into the ground, decorated with ribbons and circled around by dancers), Morris dancing and garland-making (young girls produce them from hoop, leaves and grass, thus the fest is also known as Garland Day in some regions).

May Day: From the Maypole to the Jail
The terrifying spectacle known in the UK as ‘the Morris Dance’

In France, the tradition is that people sell lily of the valley everywhere in the streets (tax-free with the government’s blessing).  Regarded both as a symbol of the coming summer and a lucky charm, the flower is believed to have been conceived by Eve’s tears at her expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

Like the British, Germans also celebrate May Day with maypoles. The guys cut a so-called “Maibaum” (May tree), wrap it in streamers and bring it to the house of the girl they love. Curiously, in leap years, girls are allowed to go emancipated and assume the role of the tree-provider.

Although not exactly famous for their wild parties, the Finnish also celebrate May Day in their particular manner. As a matter of fact, May Day is the only carnival-like celebration the supposed inventors of the sauna enjoy. On the “Vappu”, they picnic, party in the open and wear decorative caps. Typical for the holiday is the low alcoholic lemonade “sima”.

While in some countries people dance around festively decorated trees, present flowers as a sign of affection or enjoy drinks and food, in others, it is not exactly love that is in the air…

Today, in Istanbul, Turkey, despite official ban of demonstrations, Taksim Square is expected to be infested with numerous anti-government protesters. Around 20,000 policemen are to secure the area.

In Seattle, policemen in riot gear are prepared for the worst, while hoping for the best (last year’s May Day demonstrations have ended with 17 arrests and 8 injured officers).

Weirdly, today is meant to become a memorable day for Russia as well. Moscow’s Red Square is going to host a real massive May Day Parade for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Regardless of where you live and how you perceive the first of May – as a spring festival, or as an occasion to manifest your civil rights, we strongly recommend you, dear reader, to “Tanz in den Mai“ (Dance into May) rather than end up with a police or hospital record.

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