Labor Day / May Day

Labor Day is also known as May Day and is a public holiday in many countries across the world. It usually occurs around May 1, but the date can vary.

A young girl laying in the grass in the spring sun surrounded by daisies.

Labor Day, also known as May Day, is a day of rest and is usually held in early May.

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The holiday is a celebration of workers worldwide but is also associated with the beginning of spring in many countries.

Is Labor Day a Day Off?

May 1 is a national holiday in many European countries, in the Russian Federation, and in several Asian countries. It is also celebrated in countries in Central America, South America, and in some parts of the Caribbean.

In the United States, Australia, and Canada, Labor Day or Labour Day is celebrated at different times of the year.

International Workers Day

Labor Day stems from the efforts of the labor union movement to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers. Some labor groups around the world organize parades or protests to promote and protect workers' rights. In Mexico, for example, Primero de Mayo is a national holiday and traditionally features rallies and demonstrations in many cities.

Spring Day Celebrations

May Day ceremonies that stem from the traditional centuries-old May Day traditions are celebrated across the world to mark the start of spring.

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 for May Day celebrations are upheld even today, starting with the choir of Magdalen College singing from the top of the chapel tower.

In Hawaii, May Day is known as Lei Day to celebrate the island’s culture.

History of Labor Day in the US

In the US, the eight-hour movement to reduce the working day from ten 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 had passed the 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.

A Day for Workers

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. It was, however, held on the first Monday in May to minimize the damage to businesses.

In China, Labor Day was extended to 3 days during the 1990s. The Chinese government made it a seven-day holiday by moving the prior and following weekends together with these three days. This holiday allowed millions of Chinese people to travel during this period. The Chinese government reduced this holiday period down to one day in 2008, while simultaneously reviving three traditional Chinese holidays.

Ancient Spring Traditions

May Day is originally a celebration of spring and the rebirth taking place in nature. Many ancient customs associated with the day come from the old Roman festival of flowers and similar ancient Greek festivities like the Anthesteria. These include gathering branches and flowers, choosing or crowning a May Queen, and the fertility rite of dancing around a bush, tree, or a decorated May Pole.

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.

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