No day in the calendar is celebrated by so many different people around the world for so many different reasons and in so many different ways as May 1st. Seen in some cultures in history as the first day of summer, it was also a day celebrated in a number of pagan traditions, including Bealtaine in Ireland and Walpurgisnacht in Germany and the Baltic states. Christianity was able to conscript May Day to its own use, with ‘May’ being the month of Mary.

Apparently unconnected with any of this is the tradition of May Day as a workers’ holiday. This goes back to various events related to labour agitation, particularly  in 1886 in the United States (the Haymarket affair, when strikers were killed in a Chicago district). A congress of international socialist parties meeting in Paris in 1889 (the Second International) declared May 1st to be a day of commemoration and celebration of worker solidarity.  Particularly as a result of the use of May Day as a public holiday in the Soviet Union and its satellite states, it became a day of rallies and marches in the socialist tradition.

But it has not just been a left wing day. In 1933 the new German National Socialist (Nazi) government declared May 1st to be a public holiday, and used the celebrations to sideline and then disband the trade union movement. May Day remained a public holiday throughout the Nazi period.

More recently May 1st has been used by various left wing and anarchist groups as a day of protest, in many cases involving confrontation with the police and riots.

Happy May Day, whatever your tradition may be.

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5 Comments on “Mayday”

  1. Vincent Says:

    I’m a Bealtaine man meself and do not hold with all this following of Rome in all things diurnal, bloody newcomers. Ah no, it’s a fortnight now since I climbed the Mountain for the sunrise. And for the first morning in my life there was no contrails for the event.
    Anyhow, have a happy May Day in whatever tradition you are following yourself also.

  2. John Says:

    Happy Labour Day everyone.

  3. belfield Says:

    Or May Day can just be a day where something that badly needs saying gets said:

    • Sally Says:

      The author seems to counterpose arts and freethinking on the one hand with technology and conformity on the other. The artists can dream away. What we need is the radicalisation of those with a scientific outlook.

    • Ah yes, interesting piece, if (in my view) somewhat unbalanced by an obvious pre-occupation with the author’s own institution. I’ll be blogging on it later today…

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