The Fascinating History of May Day

The Fascinating History of May Day

April 30, 2019

Did you know that May 1st is a holiday? Since Roman times, the first day of May has been a cause for celebration in countries across Europe and North America, playing host to festivals that commemorate May Day. This festive acknowledgment of spring feels like the perfect way to embrace the best of a colorful season, so we took the opportunity to learn a bit more about May Day as the date approaches. Here are five fascinating facts about the history of May Day, and how you can take part in this springtime festival.

1. May Day has roots in ancient Roman and Celtic festivals. Every year in late April, Romans celebrated Floralia, a festival dedicated to the Flora, the goddess of flowers. When Romans took over the British Isles, the traditions of Floralia began to mingle with the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane, which celebrated spring’s return to life, light, and fertility. Eventually, these two festivals would merge to create May Day.

2. The maypole is the most famous symbol of May Day. Since medieval times, the maypole dance has been the most iconic element of May Day celebrations. In this traditional dance, young women who have not yet married dance around a central pole while holding colorful ribbons, weaving different patterns as they move.

3. May Day is still celebrated extensively across Great Britain. May Day is a national Bank Holiday in England, and many villages and towns still host an old-fashioned springtime celebration. Along with a maypole, May Day festivities in England can include traditional Morris dancing, folk music, food, and more. Many villages also crown a May Queen, a girl or young woman who marks the official beginning of the May Day celebrations.

4. The Puritans frowned upon May Day. If you live in the United States, you might wonder why May Day isn't as popular here as it is in Europe. That comes down to the earliest Europeans to settle in America. The Puritans discouraged May Day celebrations, particularly maypole dances. In spite of Puritan disapproval, a unique American tradition took root, continuing to this day: the May Basket. In some parts of the United States, people create tiny baskets of flowers or treats, and then leave them on the doorsteps of their friends and neighbors on the first of May. It’s traditional to drop off the basket, ring the doorbell, and then run away—leaving your friends to find an anonymous springtime surprise!

5. In Hawaii, May Day is known as Lei Day. Not all celebrations of May Day are limited to maypoles and dancing! Since 1929, the first of May has been marked as a holiday that honors the traditions and culture of the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaiians celebrate Lei Day by making leis from the flowers, fruits, and shells that represent each island. Most Lei Day festivities also include gift-giving, music, school plays, and other cultural celebrations.

Do you plan to celebrate May Day this year? Let us know how you’ll mark this festive spring occasion in the comments!



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