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Definition: May Day from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

First day of May. In many countries it is a national holiday in honour of labour; see also Labour Day.

Traditionally the first day of summer, in parts of England it is still celebrated as a pre-Christian magical rite; for example, the dance around the maypole (an ancient fertility symbol).


Summary Article: May Day from Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary
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Image from: May Day in The Bridgeman Art Library Archive

Many of the customs associated with the first day of May may come from the old Roman FLORALIA, or festival of flowers. These include the gathering of branches and flowers on MAY DAY EVE or early May Day morning, the choosing and crowning of a May Queen, and dancing around a bush, tree, or decorated pole, the maypole. The sports and festivities that are held on this day symbolize the rebirth of nature as well as human fertility. In fact, the ritual drinking and dancing around the maypole in colonial America so horrified the Pilgrim Fathers that they outlawed the practice and punished the offenders. This is probably why May Day has remained a relatively quiet affair in this country.

In Communist countries, May Day has been transformed into a holiday for workers, marked by parades that are an occasion for displaying military strength. The May Day Parade in Red Square, Moscow, has long been a spectacular example, though less so in recent years with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the resulting relaxation of Cold War tensions. Perhaps in reaction to such displays, Americans instituted LOYALTY DAY and LAW DAY on this same date. In Great Britain, May 1 is LABOR DAY. More than 50 other countries also celebrate Labor Day in honor of workers on May 1.

See also VAPPU.

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