Origins of May Day

Spring is in full bloom and we are cruising through the year! It is May 1st – May Day! 

May Day originated thousands of years ago in the Northern Hemisphere as a celebration to welcome in spring. The Celts of the British Isles thought May 1st to be the most important day of the year as it was when their festival of Beltane was. When the Romans took over the British Isles, they brought their own five-day spring celebration called Floralia, devoted to the goddess of flowers, Flora. Eventually, the Celts tradition was combined with the Roman festival! 

Another May Day Tradition was the maypole dance! The origins of the maypole dance are unknown but believed to be some sort of fertility ritual. The maypole, along with other May Day celebrations, never really caught on in America, as they were all discouraged by the Puritans. 

Though many of the European’s May Day traditions didn’t make it in America, Americans did celebrate “May Basket Day” in which baskets were created with flowers, candy, and other goodies, and hung on the doors of friends, neighbors, and loved ones! 

In the 19th century, fed up with poor working conditions and long hours, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions rallied and proclaimed “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1st, 1886.” On this day, more than 300,000 workers walked out of their jobs across the country to demand worker rights. Today, May Day, better known as International Workers’ Day, is an official holiday in 66 countries and unofficially celebrated in many more. Ironically…the United States does not recognize it, officially or unofficially. 

Today, International Workers’ Day is a celebration of laborers and the working classes that promoted and died for worker rights.