Photo from Library of Congress
May Day is a holiday that is mainly ignored by most people in the United States of America. People act rather oblivious to any mention of it. When it is mentioned some will say, “That’s when they dance around the May Pole, right?” If I mention something about an international workers solidarity day they will say, “There was a riot called the Haymarket Riot wasn’t there?”
In fact May Day started as a celebration of the beginning of Spring. Its roots go back to pagan times in Europe. Some say it began with the Greeks and Romans and the Roman celebration honored Flora, the goddess of Spring. The holiday spread throughout Europe. In some celebrations the dance around the May Pole created a pattern of ribbons of different colors.
In America it is said that the Puritans suppressed the May Day celebrations because of their pagan origins. The Puritans, it is said, disliked the fertility connotations of the Spring ritual thinking them to be licentious.
Unfortunately May Day for many Americans has come to represent radical elements among the labor movement because of the scandal of the Haymarket Riot of 1886. No one has been able to prove who was responsible for the bomb that exploded when labor activists met to protest police brutality that resulted in one death during a labor strike in Chicago. In 1889 labor organizers in Paris declared May Day as International Workers Day calling for an eight hour work day.
This May Day there are many labor rallies and protests planned. In America organizers are adding the issues of immigration reform, racism and police brutality to workers’ rights issues.
Just as many turn their noses up at mushrooms because Christianity persecuted and even executed natural healers who used mushrooms for medicinal purposes as being pagan priests and priestesses so Americans turn their noses up at any notion of celebrating May Day due to prejudices going back to ancient times.