With May Day fast approaching we decided to take a closer look at this holiday. All over the world, May Day continues to symbolise the struggle of the working class against the capitalist system. On May Day people raise their demands for unity and against racism, imperialist war and national chauvinism. The legacy of May Day provides optimism for future struggles to come. May 1 is a national holiday in more than 80 countries and celebrated unofficially in many other countries.
During the Middle Ages in England, the festivities associated with celebrating May Day reached their height. They were heavily influenced by Italian forms of celebration dating back to the time of ancient Rome. On the first day of May, English villagers arose at daybreak to wander the countryside gathering blossoming flowers and branches. A towering, tall Maypole was also set up on the village green, which was usually in the centre of the village. Villagers decorated the Maypole with brightly coloured flowers. The pole itself was made of the trunk of a tall tree. Once created the villagers danced and sang around the Maypole, accompanied by music. The fairest maiden of the village was chosen to be the Queen of the May. In some regions of England a May King was also chosen. The Queen and King of May led the village dancers and ruled over the May Day festivities. During the Elizabethan period the king and queen were called Robin Hood and Maid Marian. This old English custom, is still observed in some areas and involves children going from house to house bringing flowers in exchange for pennies. Once all the pennies have been collected, they are tossed into a wishing well.
In Switzerland a small May pine tree placed under a girl’s window to encourage health, development and fertility.
In Germany the custom is for boys to secretly plant May trees in front of the windows of their sweethearts.
Children set out early in the morning to search for the first swallow of spring. When the bird is located, the children go from door to door, singing songs of spring. The neighbours offer special treats to the children like fruits, nuts and cakes.
Just like in the German custom, the Czechoslovakian boys place Maypoles at their sweetheart’s windows at night.
Here the month of May is sacred to the Virgin Mary. Young girls serve as May queens and lead processions in honour of the Virgin Mary, carrying a statue crowned with flowers. Cows appear in French May Day festivals, cows with bundles of flowers are tied and draped around the cow's tail as they are led along in street parades. To touch one of the cows is believed to bring good luck, and everyone makes the attempt.
For May Day celebrations a May Queen is chosen, but the King of May is not normally chosen. A fading Mayday tradition since the 20th century details the giving of Mayday baskets of flowers or sweets by anonymous people, usually children. The children rang doorbells and ran away before being seen, leaving their Mayday baskets as a surprise for the recipient.
In Hawaii, May Day is called Lei Day. On this day a lei is given, with the giver putting it around the receiver's neck and accompanying it with the traditional kiss.
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