Sunday, May 4, 2014

May Day

May Day Basket
When I was a kid on May Day, we danced around the Maypole.  We each had a streamer or ribbon that was attached to the Maypole, and as we moved around the pole we wrapped it with the ribbons.  Another tradition was to take a basket of goodies, or flowers to a neighbor's house, or grandma's house, ring the bell and run to hide.  We waited behind a tree or the corner of the house to wait for whomever answered the door.  We would watch their surprise at finding the gift, but they always spotted us. 

I decided to do a little research on May Day, and I found some surprises.  Did you know in Hawaii, May Day is, also, called Lei Day?  It is a day set aside to celebrate island culture and the culture of Native Hawaiians in particular. 

On May Day, Bulgarians celebrate Irminden (or Yeremiya, Eremiya, Irima, Zamski den). The holiday is associated with snakes and lizards and rituals are made in order to protect people from them. The name of the holiday comes from the prophet Jeremiah, but its origins are probably pagan.

May Day has been celebrated in Ireland since pagan times as the feast of Bealtaine and in latter times as Mary's day. Traditionally, bonfires were lit to mark the coming of summer and to banish the long nights of winter. Officially Irish May Day holiday is the first Monday in May. Old traditions such as bonfires are no longer widely observed, though the practice still persists in some places across the country. Limerick, Clare and many other people in other counties still keep on this tradition such as the town of Arklow in Co. Wicklow.

In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of a Maibaum (maypole). Young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto: "Tanz in den Mai!" ("Dance into May!"). In the Rhineland, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a maypole, a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. Females usually place roses or rice in form of a heart at the house of their beloved one. It is common to stick the heart to a window or place it in front of the doormat.

On May 1, 1561, King Charles IX of France received a lily of the valley as a lucky charm. He decided to offer a lily of the valley each year to the ladies of the court. At the beginning of the 20th century, it became custom to give a sprig of lily of the valley, a symbol of springtime, on May 1.

In Great Britain, the traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen and celebrations involving a maypole. Much of this tradition derives from the pagan Anglo-Saxon customs held during "Þrimilci-mōnaþ" (the Old English name for the month of May meaning Month of Three Milkings) along with many Celtic traditions. They have many more traditions, which can be found at

Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers' Day of May Day.  For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union.  Most Americans don't realize that May Day has its orgins here in this country and is as American as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.

In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8 hour work day.  Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions.  Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Jack London's The Iron Heel.  As early as the 1860's, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn't until the late 1880's that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. 

Ironically, May Day is celebrated as International Workers' Day in 66 countries as an official holiday and unofficially celebrated in many more, but rarely is it recognized in this country where it began. 

There is much more to be found on this topic at  I recommend it as a read because there's a possibility history will repeat itself. 

Thank you for reading.  Have a great week and come back next Sunday. 

Sandra K. Marshall


K.T. Bishop said...

Great post. I never knew about Mayday. Just thought it was the first day of May, when flowers bloom.

Sandy said...

Hi K.T.,
I knew about May Day, but I didn't about the work revolution. How soon we forget. Thanks for coming by.

Rose Gorham said...

What a great tradition, Sandy! Thanks for sharing how other countries celebrate May Day. I didn't know some countries celebrate International Workers' Day.

Sandy said...

Hi Rose,
I was surprised at all the countries who celebrate International Worker's Day, too. It started here, and most people don't even know it.

Carol Ericson said...

Hi Sandy, interesting info. Although it sounds like most of the other countries celebrate the day as May Day and not an international worker's day. Here in L.A. May Day is marked by protesters demanding stuff! :)

Kari Rogers Miller said...

Hi Sandy...I am so glad you posted about May Day...because as I stated on my Blog on May 1st ( Day is special because my Twins were born then and because it is the time to make home made May baskets and hang them on the doors, ring doorbells and run and hide.
I did make May Baskets again this year and I took them around to my neighbors with sprigs of fresh flowers and individually wrapped Dove candy...dark chocolate...(my favorite)!

Older neighbors remembered the tradition (from my previous years of giving May Baskets) but a couple young ones did not.:(

I have always loved the tradition and due to the abundance of lavender lilacs and white spirea in the Midwest...we always had beautiful fragrant May Baskets for my kids to take to neighbors. The kids always enjoyed the glue-ing, pasting and stapling handles to be strong enough to hang on a door knob.;) (yes, we have had a few of them break over the years)

When I was a kid in school, the teachers always made a May Pole but alas, that is another tradition that has fallen by the wayside.

These wonderful times and traditions have been replaced with everything electronic! In my opinion, most kind acts up close and personal have become remote! :( yes, pun intended!

It is a sign of the times and we have to go with the flow, but I will keep alive the traditions I have control over with my own family. Good deeds are always a good thing!


Sandy said...

Thanks for coming by, Carol.

Thank you, Kari. Happy Birthday to the twins.

Melissa Keir said...

What a wonderful post. I learned so much about the tradition of May Day. I wish we did celebrate it more here in the US. It would be fun to have small gifts given and such.

:) Tweeted!

Sandy said...

Thank you for tweeting, Melissa. What a sweetheart you are. I agree it's a tradition that would be worth keeping.