Anarchists believe they invented it, socialists think it is some kind of workers Christmas, Maggie Thatcher tried to abolish it (as did the Puritans before her), Gordon Brown wants to make it tax free (just joking).
The truth is Mayday is to do with having sex and reproduction, and the celebration of 'solidarity' for families - gangs - cults - mafia organisations - communes - squat dwellers - flatsharers - mortgage payers, pick pockets, and bike thiefs. Everyone wants to celebrate having got through the winter and paid the gas bills.
A Brief History of May Day
By JOHN FORREST, extracted from the Encyclopedia of Religion:
May day is the only major festival of pre-Christian Europe that was not adapted by the Christian church for its own purposes.More On May Day:
Part of a yearly cycle that includes midwinter and harvest celebrations, it stands midway between the long, cold nights of winter and the days of plenty at summers end, e crops, as once thought, but instead is a community expression of hope and joy. The emphasis has always been social solidarity, and not the supernatural or the metaphysical.
Across Europe the key symbol of the day is fresh spring growth, and the general hope is for fecundity. Traditionally, youths spent the eve of May Day in neighbouring woods and awoke the villagers the next morning by visiting each house, singing a traditional carol and bearing garlands of fresh leaves and flowers. Or they might disguise one of their number as Jack-in-the-Green by enshrouding him with a portable bower of fresh greenery. Jack and his followers danced around the town collecting money from passersby for later feasting. In many villages these young people also cut down trees, which they then erected as maypoles in the village centres. Each pole served as a gathering place for community dances and activities.
Traditional dramas enacted on May Day in many European countries commemorated the triumph of summer over winter, while in England the focus was on dancing and pageantry. Youths elected a king and queen of the May to preside over the day's proceedings; sometimes they dressed as Robin Hood and Maid Marian, with members of their entourage representing Friar Tuck, Little John, and Robin's other merry men.
Although the origins of May Day are unknown, what is known of its history is suggestive. The festival is not based on a magical ritual to secure the fertility of the crops, as once thought, but instead is a community expression of hope and joy. The emphasis has always been social solidarity, and not the supernatural or the metaphysical.
The English and other peoples whom the Romans conquered, developed their May Day festivals from the Roman festival of Floralia. In this festival, held in April, the Romans gathered spring flowers to honour the goddess of springtime, Flora.
In medieval times, May Day became the favourite holiday of many English villages. People gathered spring flowers to decorate their homes and danced around a 'Maypole' or 'Totum', holding the ends of ribbons that streamed from its top. They wove the ribbons around the Maypole until it was covered with bright colours.
Other European countries had their own May Day customs. In some, the day became a time for courting. In Italy, boys serenaded their sweethearts. In Switzerland, a May pine tree was placed under a girl's window. German boys secretly planted May trees in front of the windows of their sweethearts. In the Czech Republic, boys placed Maypoles before their sweetheart's windows at nighttime. In France Day Day did have religious importance. The French considered the month of May sacred to the Virgin Mary. They enshrined young girls as May Queens in their churches. The May queens led processions in honour of the Virgin Mary.
The Puritans frowned on May Day. Far too pagan! For this reason the day has never been celebrated with the same enthusiasm in the United States as in Britain. Never the less in many american towns and cities, children celebrate the return of spring with dancing and singing. Children often gather spring flowers, place them in handmade paper May baskets and hang them on the doornobs of the homes of friends and neighbours on May Day morning. At May Day parties, children select May queens, dance around the Maypole, and sing May Day songs. These festivals often occur in parks or schools.
In 1889 a congress of world Socialist parties held in Paris voted to support the United States labour movement's demands for an eight-hour day. It chose May 1 1990, as a day of demonstrations in favour of the eight hour day. Afterward, May 1st became a holiday called 'Labour Day' in many nations. Government and labour organisations sponsor parades, speeches, and other celebrations to honour working people. The holiday was especially important in Communist countries but has also had special significance for the trades unions and labour movements in Britain and elsewhere. Mrs Thatcher officially abolished May Day as a national holiday in Britain. However this has been largely ignored and there are now calls for its official reintroduction. Every year some kind of labour event is organised in Britain by the 'May Day Committee' which has strong trades union links and has been been going for over 100 years.
Now a world wide movement is growing to re establish May Day as a day for liberation, healing and renewal; a celebration of life in all its forms! Even Mrs Thatcher is invited (if she is not too pissed).
Bibliography: Forrest, John, Morris and Matachin: A Study in Comparative Choreography. Sheffield, England, 1984. Judge, Roy. The Jack-in-the-Green: A May Day Custom. Ipswich, England, 1978.