Di Giacomo Mario Menegola
May 1st. Along with many other events and festivities celebrated in May, May Day is a recognized and celebrated festivity in the majority of the countries all around the world.
Although modern celebrations derive from different ancient festivals, May Day or similar festivities all have, in their oldest and traditional meaning, a close relationship with the arrival of Spring or Summer and, in general, with the rebirth of Nature and first harvests. In this way, many of the oldest traditions have pagan origins.
One of the first examples of May related festivals was the Roman “Floralia”, starting on April 27th and ending on May 3rd, celebrating the Roman goddess Flora, embodiment of wild Nature, closely related to plants, especially flowers (in fact, her name came from the Latin word for flower, flos,-oris).
Fast forward a millennium or so, the Gaelic celebration of Beltane on April 30th, celebrating the arrival of Summer, is another good example of an ancient May related festivity: even though it was actually celebrated in April, being on the last day of the month made it a sort of eve celebration.
Both of the examples show the close link with the natural cycle of death and rebirth occurring over the year.
When Christianity arrived, however, these pagan celebrations were mostly banned by the Church and replaced with other festivities, like a celebration dedicated to St. Joseph the Worker, St. Mary’s husband and Jesus’ earthly father, or the entire month being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother. Despite the measures taken by the Church against the pagan traditions, however, the new festivities still retained an apotropaic meaning, farmers and shepherds praying for protection against evil spirits.
During modern times the festivity is also related to the International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day, established by the Marxist International Socialist Congress in 1889 because the date was near the date of the Haymarket affair, occurred on April 4th 1886, in which a peaceful rally in support of striking workers was made a massacre by someone throwing a bomb between the protesters and the police, who were trying to stop the protest.
Even though the origins of the various celebrations are different, May Day represents a day of peace and unity around the world, with both the Nature related and the workers’ struggle related themes, and it is gladly celebrated as one of the most beloved festivities.