May Day: from celebrations to demonstrations

Seattle pro-immigration march, 2006

What do spring pagan festivals have in common with demonstrations for immigrant and workers’ rights?  They both take place on May 1. Since I couldn’t think of any other commonality, I decided to do a little research to find out why these three events happen on the same day.

I remember May Day from childhood, specifically, I can picture myself holding  a crepe paper streamer and circling a May Pole (only for a short time since it was not a very engaging activity for a child), which Wikipedia said figured into many European pagan traditions.  Why this date?  European pre-Christian calendars called May 1 the first day of summer, which signified a time for celebration and revelry. This festival continues in both traditional and more modern forms.  Some communities choose May queens; in others they light bonfires, sing, dance, hold carnivals or do all the above.  A modern variation takes place in Great Britain, where thousands of motorbike riders go on a fifty-five mile ride from London to the seaside.

As an adult, I spent one May 1st walking in a pro-immigration march.  Today, I understand the Occupy groups, as in Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Seattle, and Occupy- many-other-cities will hold their own demonstrations.  Why May 1 for protests? According to the Guardian newspaper (U.K.), “The origin of our present holiday [International Workers Day] lies in the fight for an eight-hour working day, in which cause the leaders of the socialist Second International called for an international day of protest to be held at the beginning of May 1890.”

Apparently, large pro-immigration demonstrations began May 1, 2006 under the umbrella of The Great American Boycott, which was organized to make the point that undocumented immigrants contribute a great deal to our economy.  Since countries in Asia, Latin America and Europe celebrate International Workers Day, organizers likely chose May 1 to gain international attention and show solidarity.

Interesting how much has been loaded on one day out of 365.  This May Day I’ll stay home and work on my homework for tomorrow’s class — which is work, but in comfortable surroundings and myself as my only boss — and watch the news to learn how others honor it.

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About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness.
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