May Day Date in the current year: May 1, 2024

May Day On May 1, several European countries celebrate a public holiday named May Day. One of the oldest festivals in Northern Hemisphere, it’s a traditional spring holiday in many cultures. May Day should not be confused with International Workers’ Day, which can also be referred to as “May Day”, but is completely unrelated to it.

In many European pagan cultures, May 1 was considered the first day of summer. The historical roots of May Day stem from several pagan summer festivals, including the Floralia, Walpurgis Night, and Beltane.

The Floralia was an ancient Roman festival in honor of Flora, a goddess of flowers, vegetation, and fertility in the Roman pantheon. It began on April 28 in the Julian calendar and lasted for six days. Walpurgis Night is the night of April 30; although it is named after a Christian saint, many of its traditions are associated with Germanic pagan customs. Finally, Beltane is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festival, marking the end of spring and the beginning of summer.

After the Christianization of Europe, most pagan holidays were either forgotten or converted into Christian festivals, like Walpurgis Night. Over the years, May Day transformed into a popular secular celebration of spring. However, some of its traditions, like dancing around the maypole, are reminiscent of the old pagan rituals.

A maypole is a wooden pole or a tree trunk decorated with multicolored ribbons. The tradition of dancing around the maypole is primarily observed in some parts of Europe (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom) and in North America, where it was brought by European immigrants.

Another May Day tradition is the crowning of the May Queen, also known as Queen of May. She is a personification of the holiday whose figure has been linked by some researchers to ancient tree worship. Today, the May Queen is selected from a group of young girls. She walks or rides in front of a parade, wearing a white gown and a crown or tiara.

In England, one of the most popular May Day traditions is Morris dancing. It’s a form of English folk dance based on rhythmic stepping and a number of distinctive figures. Today, there are six predominant styles of Morris dancing depending on the region of origin, and in some of these regions, May Day marks the beginning of the Morris dancing season.

Another English folk custom associated with the celebration of May Day is Jack in the Green, also known as Jack o’ the Green. It developed some time in the 18th century and began to die out in the early 20th century, although it has since been revived in some parts of England. Jack in the Green involves a conical or pyramidal wicker framework decorated with foliage. It is won by a person on the upper half of their body during a May Day procession.

One of the best known Jacks parades takes place in Rochester, Kent during the Rochester Sweeps Festival. At dawn on a May morning, Jack in the Green is awoken by chimney sweeps and dancers and paraded through the streets. The parade is usually held on the Bank Holiday Monday rather than on May Day proper.

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Public Holidays, Folk Festivals



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