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Early May Bank Holiday in the United Kingdom

The first Monday of May is a bank holiday in the United Kingdom. It is a day off in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Is May 2, 2022 a Public Holiday?

Yes. It is a day off for the general population, and schools and most businesses are closed.

Maypole dancing is a popular tradition on the Early May Bank Holiday.

©iStockphoto.com/Thomas Sarradet

Two Different Origins

May Day, officially known as Early May Day Bank Holiday, is a combination of two holidays in the UK:

  1. May Day is an ancient celebration of spring, rebirth, and fertility.
  2. International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day, is about workers’ rights.

Ancient Spring Celebrations

May 1 or May Day is an ancient celebration of spring and the rebirth taking place in nature. Many ancient British customs associated with the day come from the old Roman festival of Floralia, where the people wore colorful clothes and were pelted with beans and flowers—symbols of fertility.

In the United Kingdom, May Day traditions—some of which are more than 2000 years old—are still alive in many towns and villages. The ancient Celts welcomed spring during Beltane by lighting bonfires or the ‘fire of Belt.’ Its fertility rituals have carried through to today, including crowning a May Queen and dancing around a pole or a tree.

International Workers’ Day

International Workers’ Day has deep roots in the 130 years of the labor movement and its efforts to improve workers’ conditions across the globe.

May 1st or the first Monday in May in the UK is a day for parades and demonstrations, particularly in London. Trade unions usually organize the marches, and people travel far to join the protests. Sometimes the demonstrations can escalate to violence, riots, and looting. In 2000, more than 90 people were arrested, and nine police officers were injured during anti-capitalist protests in London.

Beltane Bonfires in Scotland

In Britain, Celtic people celebrated the festival of Beltane on the first of May to mark the halfway point between spring and summer. The fire was believed to cleanse, purify, and increase fertility.

The Beltane Fire Festival takes place on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland, from April 30 to May 1. Up to 12,000 people meet for a ritualized and theatrical celebration to mark the arrival of summer: Beltane. The festival combines a mix of fire, drumming, and pagan performance.

Maypole Dancing

Maypole dancing involves a tradition of decorating a tall pole with colorful ribbons. Children dance around the maypole to make patterns with the colored ribbons.

It is believed that the maypole has its roots in Roman Britain around 2000 years ago when soldiers celebrated spring by dancing around decorated trees while giving thanks to their goddess Flora.

The May Queen and Floral Crowns

Other May Day celebrations derived from Floralia include crowning a May Queen as a human replica for the Roman goddess Flora. Women make and wear floral garlands that the May Queen also wears while she oversees her “court.”

In Scotland and Ireland, girls used to go out very early to wash their faces in the morning dew. This was supposed to ensure a good corn crop, more cows, and increase fertility.

Green Man and Morris Dancing

Jack-in-the-Green is another ancient custom where men dress up in green foliage to represent the Green Man: a symbol of fertility. The Green Man is also associated with the mischievous fairy Puck, a character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare.

Morris dancing is also associated with the beginning of May. Dancers dress in white with bells on various parts of their costumes and carry handkerchiefs and long wooden sticks. The dancing is accompanied by accordion music.

UK Bank Holidays

Bank holidays can be different in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. English and Welsh bank holidays are the same, St. Andrew’s Day is Scottish, while St Patrick’s Day and Battle of the Boyne are bank holidays in Northern Ireland.

Different Date in Some Years

In 2020 and 1995, the Early May Bank Holiday was moved to May 8 to coincide with Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day, marking the 50th and 75th anniversaries of the end of World War II in Europe.

In Scotland, the Early May Bank holiday has been observed on the first Monday in May since 1871 but was only introduced in the rest of the United Kingdom in 1978 for trade unionists to celebrate. It was held on the first Monday in May to minimize the damage to businesses.

Public holidays in the UK were first defined in the Bank Holidays Act of 1871. Today, the laws are set as statutory holidays, common law holidays, or by royal proclamation.

About Early May Bank Holiday in Other Countries

Read more about Early May Bank Holiday.

Early May Bank Holiday Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday TypeArea
2017MonMay 1Early May Bank HolidayBank Holiday 
2018MonMay 7Early May Bank HolidayBank Holiday 
2019MonMay 6Early May Bank HolidayBank Holiday 
2020FriMay 8Early May Bank Holiday / VE DayBank Holiday 
2021MonMay 3Early May Bank HolidayBank Holiday 
2022MonMay 2Early May Bank HolidayBank Holiday 
2023MonMay 1Early May Bank HolidayBank Holiday 
2024MonMay 6Early May Bank HolidayBank Holiday 
2025MonMay 5Early May Bank HolidayBank Holiday 
2026MonMay 4Early May Bank HolidayBank Holiday 
2027MonMay 3Early May Bank HolidayBank Holiday 

While we diligently research and update our holiday dates, some of the information in the table above may be preliminary. If you find an error, please let us know.