May Day has been celebrated across the world for over 2000 years and in the UK, the first of the two bank holidays that fall in the month is in celebration of the occasion.
May Day is a public holiday that traditionally marks the arrival of spring and falls on the first Monday in May.
An ancient festival, May Day was originally a celebration of the changing of the seasons in the northern hemisphere and was associated with light, flowers and fertility.
Roman times – they would commemorate the day with the Floralia – or Festival of Flora – Flora is the goddess of fruit and flowers. This took place in late April/early May during that period of history.
Roman Catholics began observing May Day a little more recently in the 18th Century. Devotions were made to the Virgin Mary – often in the form of floral crowns – May 1 is also a feast day for Mary’s husband St Joseph The Worker.
Some English traditions associated with May Day include:
- crowning a May Queen – the personification of spring or summer, she is usually crowned with flowers
- dancing round the Maypole – symbolising a tree, the Maypole is decorated with flowers and ribbons and danced round in the hope of a good harvest
- Morris dancing
Maypoles are thought to have first appeared in Germany and the surrounding areas. Where this particular tradition comes from is unclear, but one theory is that making maypoles began as pagan tradition of cutting down young trees and putting them in the ground to mark the coming of summer.
May Day is also known as International Workers Day
During the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, many workers in America were dying from poor working conditions. This led to many labour strikes and civil unrest until an agreement was signed that limited the working day to 8 hours.
The May Day bank holiday is now a public holiday in many countries to celebrate all kinds of labourers and workers.