May Day: Still Somewhat Of A Big Deal In Certain Parts Of The World

on May 01 2013 12:51 PM

It’s the first of May! Break out the maypoles and daisy chains and floral headdresses, right?

Well, not so much. At least not in the U.S.

Ever since the Cold War began in the 1940s, May Day fell out of favor in the U.S. because it also happened to be a major holiday in Russia, where it's been a national holiday celebrating “The Day of Spring and Labor” since Soviet times.

May Day protesters in Warsaw Protesters hold banners as they take part during a May Day demonstration organized by far-right organisations in Warsaw May 1, 2013.  Reuters/Kacper Pempel

But in many other countries, May Day is celebrated as some variation of “International Workers’ Day,” and it often carries varying degrees of official holiday status, depending on the country. Most countries in Asia, Europe and Latin America recognize International Workers’ Day. Even a few African countries such as Egypt and Libya have designated May 1 as either a public or paid holiday. In Germany, May Day is also an official public Labor Day holiday.

May Day protesters in Trafalgar A protester holds a placard during a rally in Trafalgar Square in central London May 1, 2013. Workers hit by lower living standards and record high unemployment staged May Day protests across Europe on Wednesday, hoping to persuade euro zone governments of the case for easing austerity measures and boosting growth.  Reuters/Toby Melville

Nigerian parade attendee on May Day A Nigerian Army veteran attends a parade marking Workers' Day in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos May 1, 2013.  Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye

May Day marches in Tunis Workers and union members hold banners and flags during a May Day march, to mark International Workers' Day, or Labour Day, in Tunis, May 1, 2013.  Reuters/Zoubeir Souissi May Day Sri Lanka Supporters of the ruling party United People's Freedom Alliance hold up placards with pictures of Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa as they march at a May day rally in Colombo May 1, 2013.  Reuters/Stringer May day Marches in Havana People carry a posters and banners during the May Day parade in Havana's Revolution Square May 1, 2013. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans filed through Havana's Revolution Square on Wednesday in a May Day parade that paid tribute to Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader who was the Caribbean island's top ally and benefactor before his death from cancer in March. A sea of workers, many wearing red shirts like those favored by Chavez and carrying signs with his image, paraded past a giant statue of 19th century Cuban independence hero Jose Marti in the vast square where Cuba holds its biggest political rallies. Poster reads: 'Chavez: Our best friend.'  Reuters/Desmond Boylan

The U.K. and France saw some protests this year on May Day in response to continued austerity measures and disputed labor practices.

French party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon French far-left Parti de Gauche (PG) party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon (R) attends the annual Labour May Day march in Paris May 1, 2013.  Reuters/Charles Platiau

The countries that still celebrate May Day as it was originally intended are Germany, the U.K., and to a certain extent, Romania, where it goes by the name Arminden. In Germany and Austria, the raising of the maypole is a town-wide event in smaller communities. The night before, young men and women often leave tokens of affection in front of their paramours' homes.

Parts of the U.K. and Ireland still practice traditional garland ceremonies, for which young children weave flower garlands and sometimes enter into small competitions. In both the U.K. and Germany, May Day celebrations mark the ceremonial beginning of summer.

Let’s not forget those all-important upcoming holidays in May: May the Fourth, a holiday invented by us nerds to celebrate all things Star Wars; and Cinco de Mayo, otherwise known as the day Americans mistake for Mexico’s Independence Day, which is actually in September.

May Day Star Wars t-shirt A T-Shirt slogan is seen on a protester in Trafalgar Square in central London May 1, 2013. Union members, workers and activists marched through central London to mark International Worker's Day.  Reuters/Toby Melville

And for good measure, here’s Vanessa Redgrave singing “The Lusty Month of May” from the  screen adaptation of Lerner and Loewe’s musical “Camelot.”

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