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Labor Day / May Day

May Day, which usually occurs on May 1 in many countries, stems from ancient customs associated with the celebration of spring. It is also a national holiday for workers in many countries around the world.
labor Day

Labor Day recognizes the efforts of workers worldwide.

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What do people do?

May Day ceremonies that stem from the traditional centuries-old May Day traditions are celebrated across the world. In Hawaii, May Day is known as Lei Day to celebrate the island’s culture.

In the United Kingdom, May Day is still celebrated in many towns with the crowning of the May Queen. Maypoles can still be found in some towns and May Day traditions may include hobby horses and local people dressed in costumes.  In Oxford, traditions are upheld for May Day celebrations, starting with the choir of Magdalen College singing from the top of the chapel tower.

May Day is also referred to as Labor Day in many countries, as it also evolved from efforts of the labor union movement to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers. It is celebrated as a national holiday across many countries in continents around the world. In Mexico, it is referred to as Primero de Mayo, and is a national holiday honoring workers.  Around this time of the year, students in educational institutions may discuss the modern evolution of the holiday and the effects of politics on this day.

Public life

May 1 is a national holiday many European countries including (but not exclusive to): Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.  It is also celebrated in countries in Central America, such as Costa Rica and Panama, and in some parts of the Caribbean, including Cuba. It is also a national holiday in Mexico. In South America, it is observed in countries such as: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. May 1 is also a national holiday in the Russian Federation and Asian countries such as China, Thailand, and Vietnam.

May Day is not a federal holiday in the United States, nor is it a bank holiday in the United Kingdom, on May 1. Schools, post offices, stores and other businesses and organizations are open as usual. Public transport services run to their usual schedules and no extra congestion on highways is to be expected. However, the Labor Day holiday, or Labour Day, is celebrated in the United States and countries such as Australia and Canada at different times of the year.  

Background

Originally a celebration of spring and the rebirth taking place in nature, May Day dates back pagan cults that worshipped trees and other symbols of nature. Traditionally, May Day is characterized by the gathering of flowers and the fertility rite of dancing around the maypole. In recent years, particularly in socialist and Communist countries, May Day has become a labor festival honoring the military and industrial efforts of the country.

The eight-hour movement to reduce the working day from 10 to eight hours began after the Civil War. It was a major aim of the National Labor Union, whose first congress met in 1866. By 1868 congress and six states passed an eight-hour legislation. In 1884 the National Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Assemblies decided to call for a general strike on May 1, 1886, to enforce demands for employers to observe the eight-hour day. In 1947, amidst the anti-Communist Cold War hysteria, the US Veterans of Foreign Wars renamed May 1 as "Loyalty Day" and a joint session of Congress later made the pronouncement official.

In many countries, the May 1 holiday was obtained by trade union agitation supported by socialist parties. However, in Germany where such agitation had proved fruitless, it was instituted in 1933 as a gift from Hitler, being promptly followed by the abolition of trade unions. In the United Kingdom, a May Day Bank Holiday was instituted in 1978 for trade unionists to celebrate, but was held on the first Monday in May to minimize the damage to business.

In China, Labor Day was extended to three days during the 1990s. The Chinese government made it a seven-day holiday by moving the prior and upcoming weekends together with these three days. This holiday allowed millions of Chinese people to travel during this period. The People's Republic of China reduced this holiday period down to one day in 2008, while simultaneously reviving three traditional Chinese holidays: the Dragon Boat Festival, Tomb-Sweeping Day and the Mid-Autumn Festival

Symbols and Superstition

Many ancient customs associated with May Day come from the old Roman festival of flowers. These include gathering branches and flowers, choosing or crowning a May Queen and dancing around a bush, tree or decorated pole (the May Pole). The sports and festivities held on this day symbolize the rebirth of nature as well as human fertility. In Spain, a tall pine tree is used as a Maypole. It is decorated with ribbons, beads, and eggshells as people dance around the pole and sing May songs.

There is a superstition in Norway, dating back to pre-Christian times, about hearing the cuckoo’s first call in the spring. If the call comes from the south, the year will be good. If it is heard from the north, it is forecasted as a year of ill luck. If it comes from the west, one will be successful, and if it comes from the east, one will be lucky in love. For this reason, traditional Norwegian calendars show a bird perched in a tree on the mark for May 1.

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