May Day Celebrations



May Day is celebrated every year on May 1 and is observed in the northern hemisphere as basically a spring festival. In several countries it is also observed as a conventional public holiday.

May Day Celebrations in The US

May Day is called Lei Day in Hawaii and celebrates the indigenous traditions as well as the overall culture of the islands. A Hawaii based newspaper columnist and a poet invented the festival during the 1920s after which it the local and state governments approved it and the residents adopted it.

Nowadays it is a major form of spring celebration in this Pacific location. The earliest Lei Day was planned in Honolulu during 1927 and the conventional holiday song 'May Day is Lei Day in Hawai'i' was composed by Ruth Hawk and Leonard 'Red'. It started off as a fox trot but was changed to a Hawaiian hula number and is still performed today.

The early settlers from Europe also used to celebrate the festival in mainland US. In certain parts, there is a tradition of making small May Baskets, which are filled with goodies and flowers and placed at somebody's doorstep. The person, who places the basket, rings the bell and then makes a quick exit. The recipient then tries to catch that individual and if the chase is successful a kiss is exchanged.

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May Day Celebrations in UK

Roadmass, a Christian mass, is an integral part of the May Day celebrations of the UK. Traditionally, Morris dancing, Maypole and May Queen crowning are the major traditions of this festival.

Most of these traditions have come from pagan Anglo-Saxon customs that were observed during "rimilci-mona", which is the name of May in Old English and means Month of the Three Milkings. Several Celtic traditions have contributed to this as well.

At Oxford, May Morning merrymakers get together under the Great Tower of Magdalen College at 6 am as part of traditions. Here they listen to the traditional madrigals sung by the college choir - this is a conventional activity and serves as a finale for the celebrations of the previous night.

As part of tradition, people used to jump into the River Cherwell from the Magdalen Bridge but this became a fashion from 1970s onwards only. Of late, the bridge remains closed on that day so that people do not jump from it.

This has been done as the water there is only a couple of feet deep and people have been injured because of such activities. However, some people have still tried to cross over the barriers and jump into the water leading to more injuries.

In Durham, University of Durham students meet on Prebend's Bridge where they watch the sunrise and take part in festivities such as singing madrigals, folk music, barbecue breakfasts and dances. This has been happening since 2002 and can thus be called an up and coming tradition.

May Day is a bank holiday at Whitstable, Kent where the festivities feature a yearly procession of Morris dancers across the town. At Rochester in Kent, a Sweeps Festival takes place. Here the Morris dancers wake up the Jack in the Green at dawn.

At Barming Bridge this festival starts every year with a Morris dancing team known as Kettle Bridge Clogs who perform from 7:15 pm onwards. This bridge is built over the River Medway close to Maidstone and signals, officially, the initiation of their season of Morris dancing.


From Locksbottom, London to Hastings Seafront, East Sussex a Maydayrun is organized - this 55 mile or 89 kilometers long stretch sees more than a thousand motorbikes participate every year in the trip. The event has been celebrated for approximately 3 decades and has generated a lot of interest from across the UK.

It has been a commercial success as well. The journey is not staged officially as such with the police looking after the traffic management and parking being handled by volunteers. At Padstow, Cornwall a yearly event named 'Obby-Oss' or Hobby Horse is staged to commemorate this day.

As part of festivities, merrymakers dance with the Oss across the streets in Padstow. At the privately owned gardens, the traditional song for May Day is sung by people who are dressed in white along with blue and red sashes. Accordion players also feature in these parties.

The entire city is decked up with springtime greenery and the festivities are attended by thousands of people. Before the 19th century May Day celebrations were organized across West Cornwall and presently the festival is being brought back in Penzance and St.Ives.

The Flower Boat Ritual is staged at Kingsand, Millbrook, and Cawsand in Cornwall. A model of the ship named The Black Prince is covered with flowers and a procession is taken from Quay, Millbrook to the Cawsand beach. The houses in these villages are adorned with flowers and people wear white and red clothes as part of the tradition. Maypole and Morris dancing are also held at Cawsand Square.

May Day rallies and festivals are organized at Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Beltane Fire Festival of Edinburgh is staged at Calton Hill on the eve of May 1 as well as the early hours of the festival day itself. As per an old Edinburgh tradition, it is believed that young ladies who are able to get on top of Arthur's Seat and cleanse their faces with the morning dew have everlasting beauty.

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May Day Celebrations in Ireland

During the Pagan age, May Day was celebrated in Ireland as the feast of Bealtaine and later on as Mary's Day. As part of traditions, bonfires were lit so as to welcome the summer ahead and expel the long winter nights.

Officially it is celebrated as a bank holiday and is observed on the first Monday of May. Nowadays, this day has come to be related with rallies against the ruling government. Bonfires, also, are not held anymore.

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May Day Celebrations in France

It was on May 1, 1561 that King Charles IX was given a lily of the valley, which was supposed to be a lucky charm. From then onwards he opted to offer one such flower every year to the ladies at the court. During the start of the 20th century it became customary to present it as a springtime symbol on this day.

On this day, ladies who receive a sprig of the flower, kiss the person who is giving them the twig, as a custom. People in France also opt to present branches of dog rose flowers or lily of the valley to their near and dear ones.

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May Day Celebrations in Germany

In rural areas of Germany like the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations are staged to mark the occasion on the eve of May 1. This festival has its roots in the pagan traditions. Bonfires and mailbaum (maypole) wrapping are held on this night as well. The young generation can party on this day while families can catch on some much needed rest.

In Rhineland, this day is observed by delivering maypoles to a girl's house on April 30 - maypoles are basically trees covered with streamers. The trees are normally given by people who like the girl - a tree wrapped in white streamers is only given as a mark of dislike.

Ladies normally keep rice or roses, which are heart shaped, in front of their spouses' houses. Most of the times, the heart is kept before the doormat or attached to the window. During leap years women are supposed to place the maypoles.

All this happens in a very secret way and it is upon the individual to remain unidentified or provide a hint about who he or she is. It was in 1933 that May Day became a public holiday in this part of the world.

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May Day Celebrations in Finland

The younger generation in Finland celebrates this day on night before May 1 and the celebration is referred to as Walpurgis Night. A major tradition of this festival is using student craps to crown statues across the country.

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