May Day - Holidays Around the World

In the UK, May Day is traditionally celebrated by dancing around a maypole.
In the UK, May Day is traditionally celebrated by dancing around a maypole.

May Day referrers to an annual public holiday that is typically celebrated around the world on May 1. In some parts of the world, like the UK, the day is also called the International Workers’ Day or the more popular name of Labor Day. The holiday is an old spring festival of the northern hemisphere. People do not go to work in this day in the countries that recognize this holiday like Russia and some nations in the Asian continent. The date for celebrating May Day was chosen by the Communists and Socialists towards the end of the 19th century. The name was picked in the city of Chicago to remember the Haymarket affair (which is the outcome of an explosion that took place in Chicago during a labor protest).


Earliest recognition of the day, according to history, can be traced back to the era of the Roman Republic. The people celebrated the festival of the Flora in honor of the goddess of flowers. The celebration was held on April 27. Sometimes, May Day is associated with the Gaelic Beltane which was marked on April 30th.

Primarily, the celebration was pagan. Christianity, however, brought about a change in the holidays such that the religious aspect of May Day was lost and the festival became secular. In some parts of the world, like Germany, the day is celebrated amongst other days to honor St Walburga, who is attributed to Christianizing Germany.

Catholics have always celebrated this day since the turn of the 18th century in different ways. In the Catholic belief, May 1 is also a part of one of two days that honor St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers among Catholics.

Rituals and Customs

Different parts of the world have different ways of marking May Day. For example, people in Great Britain traditionally marked the day by doing things like dancing around a maypole and choosing a May Queen. Morris dancing has also been associated with traditional British celebrations. Modern celebrations in the UK vary with people choosing to mark the day differently. Edinburgh, for example, marks the day with the Beltane Fire Festival, which is a pagan ritual.

In Finland, May Day is called Vappu (a Finnish word) and is the only holiday that is celebrated on the street. The day is marked by several activities such as picnics, outside partying, and dressing up. Other people make a special drink called “sima” that is low on alcohol and can be taken by kids as well.

Another county that celebrates it is Germany where bonfires are lit, and maypoles are set on fire. Younger people typically go out to party while families also come together. Ireland, Bulgaria, and Greece also light up bonfires.

Other nations are very superstitious about the way they celebrate the day, like Romania where they mark the day in order to protect farm animals and crops. Bulgaria believes that the day is related to snakes and lizards. People, therefore, mark the day by protecting against the two animals.

All in all, celebrations vary all around the world, but dances, song, and food are common to most celebrations.


More in Society