Dancing Around the Maypole: what is May Day?

May Day is an important holiday in the UK, celebrated on the first Monday of May each year. It is a day to mark the arrival of spring and to celebrate workers’ rights. The origins of May Day go back centuries and the holiday has taken on different meanings over time.

May Day is also known as International Workers’ Day, which is celebrated around the world on May 1st. In the UK, the holiday has been moved to the first Monday of May to create a long weekend, known as the May Day Bank Holiday.

May Day Festivals

May Day has its roots in ancient pagan festivals celebrating the arrival of spring, which were held across Europe. In the UK, May Day celebrations traditionally involve dancing around the maypole, crowning a May Queen, and Morris dancing.

During the 19th century, May Day became an important day for workers’ rights in the UK. In 1889, the Second International, a coalition of socialist and labour parties, declared May 1st as International Workers’ Day to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago, USA, where police officers had killed workers during a peaceful protest for an eight-hour working day.

In the UK, the tradition of celebrating workers’ rights on May Day continued throughout the 20th century. The Labour Party, for example, held a May Day rally in Trafalgar Square in London each year, while trade unions often held parades and demonstrations.

May Day Movement

However, in 1978, the government moved the May Day Bank Holiday from May 1st to the first Monday of May. This was done in order to create a long weekend and to avoid clashes with other events such as Easter and the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, which took place in 1981.

Today, May Day in the UK is still celebrated with events and festivals across the country. Some areas hold traditional May Day celebrations, while others focus on workers’ rights and political activism. The holiday remains an important symbol of the struggle for workers’ rights and a celebration of the arrival of spring.

In conclusion

May Day in the UK is a holiday with a rich history and meaning. It has evolved over time from ancient pagan festivals to a day of workers’ rights and political activism. Despite changes to the date of the bank holiday, May Day remains an important celebration in the UK, marking the arrival of spring and the ongoing fight for workers’ rights.