May Day is a popular tradition all over the world, but celebrations tend to vary dramatically from one place to another. Traditions around this day are sometimes so different that the holiday itself is not even on the same day in every culture so anyone working virtually should be aware of how their international counterparts may be celebrating.
In the Northern Hemisphere, May Day has its origins in different pagan cults that celebrated the arrival of the farmable period, such as Beltane in Ireland, Walpurgis in Scandinavia or Floralia in ancient Rome. Many of these traditions were abandoned or Christianised in Europe in the Middle Ages, although since then most have lost any religious meaning.
Today May Day is more commonly known as International Worker’s Day or Labour Day in more than 80 cultures. This has its roots in the events following the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1886 which resulted in several deaths of demonstrators and police officers involved in a strike to fight for an eight-hour work day. Several years later workers finally succeeded in having this day marked as a public holiday to commemorate labour efforts.
In some countries there will be protests or parades around labour, socialist or communist causes while in others the holiday incorporates more traditional and pagan customs. Here are a few examples of how May Day is celebrated around the world.
Germany – Tanz in den Mai!
May Day celebrations in Germany referred to as ‘Tanz in den Mai’ (Dance into May) parties are commonly celebrated outdoors. For these parties men erect worshipped maypoles, an old Germanic custom some believe symbolises the sacred spring tree. In some parts of Germany young men traditionally erect small decorated maypoles in front of their girlfriends’ houses. May 1st in Germany is a public state holiday so people have the day off.
France – Flowers on Street Corners
The 1st of May is the official Labour Day in France and a public holiday. In France May Day is strongly connected with pagan traditions, and people will give loved ones lily-of-the-valley or dog rose flowers to bless them with happiness and luck. On May Day in France you will therefore see people selling small bouquets of these flowers in the shops or on street corners while some people make it a family event to go to the woods to pick flowers together. You will also often see political parades or protest events, particularly in the capital Paris. If May Day falls on a Thursday or Tuesday, people will often create a ‘pont’ and take off four days.
Finland – Picnics and Parades
Vappu, or Walpurgis Day , is ‘the Day of Finnish Work’ and is celebrated the most by Finnish students on the evening of 30 April into 1 May. Finns will prepare lavish picnics and attend festivals or activist parades during the day. Students, and often statues, will wear traditional white caps to celebrate this holiday.
China – Travel Mayhem
Labour Day historically lasted one week in China until 2008 when it became a one day holiday to favour the revival of other ancient Chinese holidays. When the 1st of May falls on a weekend, the festivity is extended to the following Monday to allow Chinese people to travel and have free time with their families. As a result, travel during this period can be very difficult and expensive since there will be millions of Chinese people travelling either domestically or internationally to visit family.
These are just a few examples of how May Day is celebrated around the world. Effective global virtual working and communication require an awareness of how, and when, this holiday may be celebrated so that you can plan any calls or meetings accordingly. In some countries there is no holiday at all around this time, so if you have the day off be sure your colleagues in the US or Canada are aware of this. Whatever your plans, happy May Day!
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2012