May 2nd 2021

Five traditions celebrated on 1st May [Heritage Stories]


Happy #internationalWorkersDay and also happy #MayDay. Here are five different traditions that are celebrated on 1st May. 

  1. With #InternationalWorkersDay we remember the resolution adopted in 1889 for a "great international protest" to support the demands of the working class to work only eight hours a day. Today 1st May is a public holiday for more than 80 countries celebrating workers and their labour rights struggle.

  2. You may have heard that this day is also known as #MayDay, and although it is now also associated with International Labour Day, this day goes back much further. The earliest records speak of the celebration of Floralia, a festival that took place between 27th April and 3rd May dedicated to Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. According to poets of the time, the festival was filled with theatrical performances and lots of colours, and at that time, hares and goats were released. 

  3. Other historians link #MayDay to a celebration dedicated to Dionysus and Aphrodite that took place every three years, and it is known as Maiouma or Maiuma.

  4. In Europe, Germanic countries celebrate the Witches or #Walpurgis Night, an 8th-century abbess in France, commemorating her canonisation on 1st May and remembering her struggles against plagues, rabies and whooping cough, as well as witchcraft. In fact, in many central and Eastern European regions, the night of 30th April to 1st May used to be celebrated by lighting bonfires to ward off evil spirits and witches. Today people in some areas keep lighting bonfires and spend the evening and night outside. However, everything changes the next day, when people celebrate with colours and ribbons the new life and the fertility that comes with spring. This tradition, which dates back to the 14th and 16th centuries, is characterised by the #Maibaum or "Maypole". In many parts of Germany, it is usual to find this long wood stick decorated with ribbons and colours located in the centre square. In times without Pandemic, people gather there to dance around and celebrate this happy season full of warmth and comfort. 

  5. The fire was also the main element in Gaelic May Day or Beltane, a tradition recorded in Scotland, Ireland and other parts of north-Western Europe as the beginning of the pastoral summer season. Beltane means "Lucky fire", because its flames and ashes have protective powers that safeguard livestock and help nature to grow. The celebration was especially noted for being full of yellow May flowers. People of the region use them to decorate the windows, doors, stables and even on the cattle. 

Do you know these festivities that open the month of May? Do you know any others?

Let us know how you experience the beginning of May in your country!