May Day

May 1 was celebrated around the world as May Day. Like every year, there were at least two important celebrations associated with it.

One celebration was as the International Workers’ Day or Labor Day. Workers in many countries gathered around to express their unity and also voice their concerns. In Indonesia, Cambodia, and Bangladesh, workers asked for higher salaries and better working conditions. In Bangladesh, the workers were also upset about a recent incident where a factory building collapsed and several people were killed. One of their demands was for safer working conditions. In Istanbul, Turkey, a fight broke out between the protesters and the police. The police were trying to stop protests from being held in one of the city’s squares where many people have protested on May Day in previous years. Thousands of people marched in cities in Italy, Greece, and Spain. People are upset with their governments for raising taxes, decreasing salaries, and reducing the number of government jobs.  In one city in Italy, the protesters threw eggs and paint at the police.

Why did May 1 become a day to celebrate the workers of the world? On that day in 1886, large rallies were held in various cities in the United States as part of a broad strike by workers to get a shorter working day. The strike lead to some riots in Chicago, USA which resulted in the death of several workers as well as policemen. In 1889, an international labor organization decided in Paris, France to choose May 1, 1890 as the day to commemorate the workers’ fight for an eight-hour work day across the globe. Since then, May Day has become an annual event celebrated by several countries in the world. Interestingly, the USA decided to adopt the first Monday in September as Labor Day instead of May 1, because of the unfortunate outcome of the original May 1 event.

May Day is also celebrated as the first day of summer in many cultures. A tradition in the United Kingdom is for people to dance around Maypoles which are wooden poles decorated with flowers and ribbons. In France, some people present their loved ones with stems of lilies of the valley (a type of flower). Some Americans hang a basket of flowers on a neighbor’s door knob. A German tradition is for the people of a village to steal the Maypole of other villages.

Did you know?

If you say “Mayday” three times, it becomes a call for help. Mayday is often used over radios by boats and ships, for instance, to indicate that they are in trouble and need help. This word, though, has nothing to do with May Day! It originates from “M’aider” which means “help me” in French.

Image Credits: for May Day’s image