Yesterday was May Day, and that means it’s time for a party. Or a protest. Maybe both. Why are May Day celebrations around the world so different? To find out, let’s take a look at the history of the holiday and the places where it’s celebrated.
Traditional May Day Celebrations Around the World
In the northern hemisphere, May Day celebrates the coming of spring (or of summer, depending on where you are). Many May Day traditions have roots that go back to before the arrival of Christianity.
For example, the ancient Romans celebrated the end of April with a six-day-long festival in honor of the goddess Flora. The festival featured games, performances, “lustful” animals like hares and goats running rampant, flowers and a sacrifice to Flora at the end.
Meanwhile, Celtic cultures traditionally observed Beltane on the first of May, with bonfires, flowers, decorating a May Bush, and offerings to the fairies to keep them from making mischief at the expense of the villagers’ herds.
Traces of these ancient rites remain in traditional May Day celebrations around the world, often mixed in with Christian beliefs.
May Day Around the World: United Kingdom
For example, in parts of the UK, May Day celebrations include dancing around a maypole, crowning a May Queen and traditional morris dancing. Some towns have also brought back Jack in the Green, a drunken ruffian character clothed in foliage. Jack in the Green was once a common sight at May Day festivals until Victorian morals did away with him.
Meanwhile, Cornwall hosts unique May Day celebrations, including the ‘Obby ‘Oss festival in Padstow and Flower Boat parades in Kingsand, Cawsand, and Millbrook. For the ‘Obby ‘Oss festival, villagers decorate the town with a maypole, flowers, and greenery. Teams of dancers parade through the town. One of them carries a model hobby horse with jaws that snap shut and tries to snatch young women as they pass by. Read more