May Day

Ancient Europe

May Day today, the start of Summer. Celebrations can date to the Ancient Romans and Celts. The ancient Celts celebrated the 1st of May with the festival of Beltane throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Island of Man. Beltane festival was marked with bonfires to symbolise the ‘return of life and fertility’ associated with the beginning of Summer. Whilst, the Romans celebrated May Day as a five-day celebration to worship the Roman Goddess of flowers, Flora.

 Medieval Europe

The medieval times brought the tradition of the maypole dance, the exact date and place of origins of the maypole dance is not clear. However, it is still celebrated today. Like the bonfires of the Ancient Romans and Celts, the maypole symbolises fertility. It is a tall wooden pole decorated with floral garlands. And people danced around the pole with the joy that summer is returning.

The Industrial Age

Moving on May Day has become symbolic of workers’ rights which originated in the United States during the 19th century. In Chicago, in 1884, the American Federation of Labour proclaimed that the eight-hour working day would become legal after the 1st May 1886. And worker strikes and protests began for this proclamation. The US government sent in the police and the tension resulted in the Haymarket Riot. In the years after, workers around the United States and Europe demonstrated on the May 1st, in commemoration of the Haymarket riots. Later the Soviet Union would also proclaim May 1st as a workers’ holiday.


Today, perhaps May Day is less seen as either a worker’s holiday or rural festivities. However, the day is still a public holiday in some countries and some festivities continue.

You can read about May and Springtime

Photo source Kristine Tanne