In some places around the world, this is celebrated as the first day of summer or as a day of fertility—lots of flowers and dancing and so forth. In other places, this is celebrated as Labor Day, a day in which to think and talk about workers' rights and working conditions.
(Interestingly enough, Labor Day is associated with May 1 because of an event that happened in the U.S., the 1886 Haymarket Affair, in which a general strike for better working conditions ended up with some tragic violence and loss of life. Many non-U.S. countries took on this date for a day to honor workers—and sometimes, still, to protest on behalf of workers—and this included the Soviet Union. Because of this association with communism, the U.S. doesn't celebrate Labor Day in May, but instead does so on the first Monday in September.)
Let's look at one colorful May Day tradition, from Kingsand, Cawsand, and Millbrook in England:
People wear red and white clothes and decorate their houses with flowers. A model of the ship The Black Prince is covered in flowers and is paraded from the Quay at Millbrook to the beach at Cawsand and then cast adrift. After the Flower Boat Ritual is over, there is Morris dancing and May pole dancing.
Morris dancing is a kind of folk dancing apparently performed by men. It has rhythmic stepping and choreographed figures (doesn't all dance?) and it is sometimes performed with sticks, swords, handkerchiefs, bells, or even tobacco pipes.
A May pole is a tall wooden pole decorated with long colored ribbons that are attached at the top, and also with festoons and wreaths of flowers and greenery. The May pole dancers weave the ribbons in and out and in this way make patterns.
Celebrate with May baskets.
An old tradition that could easily be revived is making May baskets. Make small baskets filled with sweets or flowers (real ones are great, but they could be paper or chenille flowers), and leave them anonymously on your neighbor's front porches. If you make several, you could use inexpensive materials such as plastic strawberry baskets and shredded-paper or “Easter grass” to hold the sweets or flowers.
Here are some cute paper “baskets”—and lots of other May Day crafts!
Do some crafts.
Check out the Crayola website for more May Day crafts.
Color some pictures.
Illustrator Jan Brett has some really great coloring pages to print out and color. Here is one with Hedgie the Hedgehog and spring flowers, and here is one about a springtime bike ride.
Make May Day a play day!
Little Kids' Games Online has some cute May Day game suggestions.
Did you know...?
- May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii.
- In the United States, May 1 is also Law Day, Loyalty Day, and Save the Rhino Day.
So, do your best to celebrate: workers and labor, flowers and summer, leis, law, loyalty, and rhinos. Whew!