Public Domain Celebrating May Day, New York City, 1913
This is a reprise of an May Day post written earlier.
The first of May used to be a happy celebration of spring. According to The Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of MAY DAY, everybody was into it.
The Greeks had their sacred groves, the Druids their oak worship, the Romans their games in honor of Floralia. In Scotland the herdsman formed circles and danced around fires. The Celts lit bonfires in hilltops to honor their god, Beltane. In the Tyrol people let their dogs bark and made music with pots and pans. In Scandinavia fires were lit and the witches came out.
Everywhere people “went a-Maying” by going into the woods and bringing back leaf, bough, and blossom to decorate their persons, homes, and loved ones with green garlands. Outside theater was performed with characters like “Jack-in-the-Green” and the “Queen of the May.” Trees were planted. Maypoles were erected. Dances were danced. Music was played. Drinks were drunk, and love was made. Winter was over, spring had sprung.
Harpers Magazine coverage of Haymarket Massacre/Public Domain
Really, everyone was having such a good time, until the industrial revolution and the long hours that made a thing such as May Day impossible for most workers. In 1886 there was a nationwide call to limit working hours to 8 hours a day; On May 1, in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, it turned into a debacle. Dynamite was thrown; Police reacted by shooting into the crowd, killing four; a trial was held and four workers were hanged, who came to be considered martyrs for the labor movement. From that day on, it became a day of protest about workers’ rights. In 1889 the Second International declared it to be International Workers Day. The Russian revolution started on it, which really turned the day from green to red in the minds of Americans, many of whom do not think much of the labor movement. Everybody has been trying to kill it ever since.
In 1921, in response to the Bolshevik revolution, May 1 was observed as Americanization day. In 1958, President Eisenhower declared it to be Loyalty Day, ” a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.” That’s where it remains today in America.
Village Scene with Dance around the May Pole, Bruegel./Public Domain
It was so much more fun before it got political. In honor of how it used to be, get outside today and admire a tree.