Happy May Day, which used to be green instead of red

Celebrating May Day, New York City, 1913/Public Domain

The first of May used to be a happy celebration of spring. According to The Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of MAY DAY, everybody was into it.

The Greeks had their sacred groves, the Druids their oak worship, the Romans their games in honor of Floralia. In Scotland the herdsman formed circles and danced around fires. The Celts lit bonfires in hilltops to honor their god, Beltane. In the Tyrol people let their dogs bark and made music with pots and pans. In Scandinavia fires were lit and the witches came out.

Everywhere people "went a-Maying" by going into the woods and bringing back leaf, bough, and blossom to decorate their persons, homes, and loved ones with green garlands. Outside theater was performed with characters like "Jack-in-the-Green" and the "Queen of the May." Trees were planted. Maypoles were erected. Dances were danced. Music was played. Drinks were drunk, and love was made. Winter was over, spring had sprung.

Haymarket Explosion/ wikipedia/Public Domain

Really, everyone was having such a good time, until the industrial revolution and the long hours that made a thing such as May Day impossible for most workers. In 1886 there was a nationwide call to limit working hours to 8 hours a day; in Chicago's Haymarket Square, it turned into a debacle. Dynamite was thrown; Police reacted by shooting into the crowd, killing four; a trial was held and four workers were hanged, who came to be considered martyrs for the labor movement. From that day on, it became a day of protest about workers' rights. The Russian revolution started on it, which really turned the day from green to red in the minds of Americans, many of whom do not think much of the labor movement.

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In 1921, in response to the Bolshevik revolution, May 1 was observed as Americanization day. In 1958, President Eisenhower declared it to be Loyalty Day, " a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom." That's where it remains today in America.

Village Scene with Dance around the May Pole, Bruegel./Public Domain

It was so much more fun before it got political. In honor of how it used to be, get outside today and admire a tree.

Tags: Wayback Machine

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