CulturallyOurs May Day Traditions Around The World

May Day Traditions Around The World

04.29.20
CulturallyOurs May Day Traditions Around The World

May Day, a festival honoring the advent of the season transition from Spring to Summer, refers to an annual public holiday that is celebrate in many countries around the world. It typically falls been April 30th to May 1st depending on the country. In recent years, May day (May 1st) is also celebrated as the International Workers Day in some countries in Europe. But traditionally since medieval times, May day celebrations have been centered around the advent of Summer – a traditional way to welcome the new season.

This holiday is an ancient festival of most Northern Hemisphere countries.

Earliest celebrations of this festival and holiday can actually be tracked back to the Roman Empire. People celebrated the the Floralia, festival of Flora in the honor of the goddess of flowers. The Floralia festival began in Rome in 240 or 238 B.C., when the temple to Flora was dedicated, to please the goddess Flora into protecting the blossoms. May day is also synonymous with the Gaelic festival of Beltane which is celebrated on April 30th.

Originally May Day festival was through to be pagan in rituals. With the advent of Christianity, many of the rituals were changed and modified, losing some of its originality. In some parts of the world, like Germany, the day is celebrated amongst other days to honor St Walburga, who is attributed to Christianizing Germany. In the Catholic belief, May 1 is also a part of one of two days that honor St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers among Catholics.CulturallyOurs May Day Traditions Around The World Around The Maypole

May Day rituals and customs around the world

Different parts of the world have different ways of marking May Day.

Scotland

In Scotland, the day is marked with the Beltane Fire Festival, which is a pagan ritual. Beltane marked the beginning of summer when cattle were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around or between bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire signifying the birth of a new season. These gatherings would be accompanied by a feast with food, drink and dancing around the fires.

Bulgaria

On May Day, Bulgarians celebrate Irminden (or Yeremiya, Eremiya, Irima, Zamski den). The holiday is associated with snakes and lizards and rituals are made in order to protect people from them. In western Bulgaria people light fires, jump over them and make noises to scare snakes. Another custom is to prepare “podnici” (special clay pots made for baking bread). This day is especially observed by pregnant women so that their offspring do not catch “yeremiya” — an illness due to evil powers.

Romania

In Romania May day is celebrated with the intention of protecting farm animals and crops. It has more of a superstitious thread than most other countries. The name comes from Slavonic Jeremiinŭ dĭnĭ, meaning prophet Jeremiah’s day, but the celebration rites and habits of this day are apotropaic and pagan (possibly originating in the cult of the god Pan.

On May Day eve, country women do not work in the field as well as in the house to avoid devastating storms and hail coming down on the village. Arminden is also ziua boilor (oxen day) and thus the animals are not to be used for work, or else they could die or their owners could get ill.

It is said that the weather is always good on May Day to allow people to celebrate.

Czech Republic

In Czech Republic, May Day is traditionally considered a holiday of love and May as a month of love. The celebrations of spring are held on April 30 when a maypole (“májka” in Czech) is erected — a tradition possibly connected to Beltane, since bonfires are also lit on the same day. On May 31st, the maypole is taken down in an event called Maypole Felling. On May 1st, couples in love kiss under a blooming tree.

Finland

In Finland, May Day is called Vappu and is one of the four biggest holidays along with Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and Midsummer. It is the only holiday that is celebrated on the street. The day is marked by several activities such as picnics, outside partying, and dressing up. Other people make a special drink called ‘sima’ that is low on alcohol and can be taken by kids as well.  The celebrations, which begin on the evening of 30 April and continue on 1 May, typically centre on the consumption of sima (mead), sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages.

Estonia

May Day or “Spring Day” (Kevadpüha) is a national holiday in Estonia celebrating the arrival of spring. More traditional festivities take place throughout the night before and into the early hours of 1 May, on the Walpurgis Night (Volbriöö).

France

On 1 May 1561, King Charles IX of France received a lily of the valley as a lucky charm. He decided to offer a lily of the valley each year to the ladies of the court. At the beginning of the 20th century, it became custom to give a sprig of lily of the valley, a symbol of springtime, on 1 May.

Germany

In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of a Maibaum or Maypole.

In the Rhineland, 1 May is also celebrated by the delivery of a maypole, a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. Women usually place roses or rice in the form of a heart at the house of their beloved one. It is common to stick the heart to a window or place it in front of the doormat

Ireland

May Day has been celebrated in Ireland since pagan times as the feast of Beltane and in latter times as Mary’s day. Traditionally, bonfires were lit to mark the coming of summer and to grant luck to people and livestock. Officially Irish May Day holiday is the first Monday in May. Old traditions such as bonfires are no longer widely observed, though the practice still persists in some places across the country.

Italy

In Italy it is called Calendimaggio or cantar maggio a seasonal feast held to celebrate the arrival of spring. The event takes its name from the period in which it takes place, that is, the beginning of May, from the Latin calenda maia. The Calendimaggio is a tradition still alive today in many regions of Italy as an allegory of the return to life and rebirth. It is a celebration that dates back to ancient peoples, and is very integrated with the rhythms of nature, such as the Celts (celebrating Beltane), Etruscans and Ligures, in which the arrival of summer was of great importance.

Portugal

May Day is predominately celebrated in Northern Portugal. People put the yellow flowers of Portuguese brooms, the bushes are known as giestas. The flowers of the bush are known as Maias, which are placed on doors or gates and every doorway of houses, windows, granaries, currently also cars, which the populace collect on the evening of 30 April when the Portuguese brooms are blooming, to defend those places from bad spirits, witches and the evil eye. The placement of the May flower or bush in the doorway must be done before midnight.

Serbia

Prvomajski uranak is a folk tradition and feast on 1 May. On this day, people go in the nature or even leave the day before and spend the night with a camp fire. Most of the time, a dish is cooked in a kettle or in a barbecue. Among Serbs this holiday is widespread. Almost every town in Serbia has its own traditional first-of-may excursion sites, and most often these are green areas outside the city.

Poland

In Poland, there is a state holiday on 1 May. It is currently celebrated without a specific connotation, and as such it is May Day. However, due to historical connotations, most of the celebrations are focused around Labor Day festivities. May Day is closely followed by May 3rd Constitution Day. These two dates combined often result in a long weekend called Majówka. People often travel, and Majówka is unofficially considered the start of the barbecuing season in Poland.

United Kingdom

Traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include crowning a May Queen and celebrations involving a maypole, around which dancers often circle with ribbons. Historically, Morris dancing has been linked to May Day celebrations. The earliest records of maypole celebrations date to the 14th century, and by the 15th century the maypole tradition was well established in southern Britain.

Wales

In Wales the first day of May is known as Calan Mai or Calan Haf, and parallels the festival of Beltane and other May Day traditions in Europe. Traditions start the night before with bonfires, and is considered a spirit night when people would gather hawthorn (draenen wen) and flowers to decorate their houses, celebrating new growth and fertility. On May Day celebrations would include summer dancing and May carols also referred to as singing under the wall.

All in all, celebrations vary all around the world, but dances, song, and food are common to most May Day traditions and celebrations.

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  1. Andi says:

    I really enjoyed reading about the different versions of May Day. My family has some Portuguese culture so that was interesting and I am very familiar with the French version being married to a Frenchman and having lived in France – I love learning about other cultures!