May Day is about more than dancing around a pole — here's how it's celebrated around the world
May 1, or “May Day,” was once an important holiday in the U.S., serving as a date to celebrate the peak of spring while launching social justice movements and demonstrations across the country.
While the day is no longer celebrated by most Americans, people around the world continue to mark the day with marches, dances, and other traditions.
Festivities celebrating May 1, or the halfway point between spring and summer, began centuries ago in Europe. These celebrations served to bring good luck for the spring growing season into the summer and fall harvest, as well as fertility to the community.
Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, May Day took on a more radical form, as labor activists reconfigured the holiday into a springtime Labor Day, serving as a platform to demand better working conditions.
Take a look at how people around the world mark the day, whether for seasonal reasons or political ones.
Maypoles are one of the most visibly identifiable traditions of May Day, still used across parts of Europe. The innocent looking dance of ribbons began as a pagan fertility ritual, representing the union of the masculine and the feminine.
Decoration and delivery of May baskets
Friends, neighbors and admirers filled baskets with flowers and other small gifts and hung them on the doors of their loved ones throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in the U.S., NPR reported. Lore has it: it's bad luck if you catch someone as they are attempting to deliver a basket.
Passing out lily of the valley
Beginning under the reign of King Charles IX as a celebration of spring, people throughout the cities and towns of France distribute lily of the valley or "muguet" on May 1. As May Day celebrations became more politically charged in the 19th century, the lily of the valley has frequently been repurposed as a symbol of the labor movement, featuring prominently in workers' rights protests.
Worker’s protests and strikes
Protests and strikes are frequent throughout Europe on May 1, particularly in France, Germany, and Russia. The U.S. has also seen demonstrations on this day, particularly surrounding social reform and immigrants rights, especially in the 1800s.
Bonfires for Beltane
In cultures across the U.K. May Day festivities fell under the holiday of Beltane. It is an ancient, Celtic festival that modern Wiccans still celebrate with bonfires and ceremonial dancing.