May Day Fast Facts
Here’s a look at May Day, referred to as International Workers Day in many countries.
Celebrated on the first day of May each year.
In Gaelic traditions, it is known as Beltaine (or the Anglicized “Beltane”).
May Day has shared a date with International Workers’ Day since the 1880s. At the time, labor movements around the world were fighting for fair work accommodations like eight-hour workdays and unions.
To most people in the Northern Hemisphere, May Day conjures images of brightly colored twirling ribbons and promises of warm days ahead. That’s not the whole story, though: May Day is also a day of protests and riots that traces its modern roots back to a world-changing explosion in Chicago.
The origins of May Day may go back to Pagan earth worship celebrating the start of summer.
Another theory ties the holiday to the Roman festival of Floralia, a festival that honored Flora, the goddess of springtime. As Rome conquered other countries, the tradition spread.
Puritans in the United Stated looked down on May Day. As a result, the holiday is not celebrated as extensively in the United States.
In Medieval England, May Day celebrations centered on the maypole, which is a pole made from wood, decorated with streamers, which are held by dancers circling the pole.
In May of 1886, activists in the United States organized a national strike to promote an eight-hour workday. One of the protests, in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, turned violent, with days of clashes between police and demonstrators. The incident came to be known as the Haymarket Affair.
To honor those who participated in the Haymarket protest, the International Socialist Conference declared that May 1 would be a day designated for labor, called International Workers’ Day. The holiday was established at a meeting in 1889.
In the United States, Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September. It became a national holiday in 1894.