Labor Day

Today is Labor Day in the United States. It’s another holiday that seems to have lost a lot of its meaning.  Like some other holidays – Veterans Day, Memorial Day, some would even say Christmas – we now view this as a day off and a long weekend. Many children associate today with the end of summer and going back to school.

The first American Labor Day was marked on a Tuesday – September 5, 1882 – organized by the Central Labor Union in New York as a day of rest for working persons.

The Haymarket Riots (or Haymarket affair or Haymarket massacre) was a demonstration on Tuesday, May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. It started out as a rally in support of striking workers. Someone threw a bomb at police as they dispersed the public meeting and that resulted in gunfire from the police, the deaths of eight police officers (most from friendly fire) and some civilians.

The legal proceedings that followed got international press and eight “anarchists” were tried for murder. Four men were convicted and executed, and one committed suicide in prison, although the prosecution conceded none of the defendants had thrown the bomb.

U.S. President Grover Cleveland supported moving the holiday to a September date to avoid associations with the Haymarket riot and Socialist May Day associations. He signed a bill into law making the September Labor Day observance a federal holiday in 1894.

Most other countries celebrate workers on May first of each year. “May Day” refers to several public holidays but is associated with International Workers’ Day, or Labour Day, a day of political demonstrations and celebrations organized by unions and other groups.

Americans don’t really do much to celebrate work or workers today. We have barbecues, backyard blowouts, watch early college football games. And yet, now is not a good time for workers. Unemployment is high and businesses are cutting back. It’s not a good time for labor unions either. There are lots of demands for concessions by unions on their contracts and some politicians are calling for an end to unions.

America is a work-obsessed culture and it seems a shame that this holiday doesn’t have more of a connection to the positive aspects of work and workers.

It is May Day. What does that mean?

May Day basket
Did anyone put a May Day basket on your door?
Maypole Dance

It is May Day, a name that derives from the Greek goddess Maia, the most important of the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) and the mother of Hermes. Her name became the name for this month. The Romans called her Maius, goddess of Summer, and honored her during Ambarvalia.

The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries.

May Day celebrations continued throughout Europe and traveled to the New World with Maypole dances and May baskets filled with flowers or treats left secretly at someone’s doorstep. If the receiver of a basket catches the giver, a kiss is exchanged.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, May is observed as Mary’s month, and May Day is usually a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary with works of art, school ceremonies etc. Statues of Mary will sometimes be adorned with a ring of flowers in a May crowning.

May first is also International Workers’ Day which is also known as May Day and is a celebration of the international labor movement. This celebration of laborers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labor movement.  May 1 was chosen as the date for International Workers’ Day by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago that occurred on May 4, 1886.

Because May 1 also marks the traditional European Spring holiday May Day as well, it is a national public holiday in more than 80 countries. In some of those countries, it is the public holiday officially celebrated as Labor Day or some variation without the spring associations.

festival
at the Edinburgh Fire Festival http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/festival/edinburgh-beltane-fire-festival/

Beltane is an ancient Celtic festival which came into English from the Gaelic word bealltainn which literally means “May First.” Though the weather in Paradelle and many other places would not suggest the transition of spring to summer this early, traditionally large bonfires would be lit to celebrate this transition of seasons and the fertility of all things.

Cattle were once driven through the Beltane bonfires for purification and fertility (not to be killed).

The annual Beltane Fire Festival held in Edinburgh, Scotland is one still existing modern example.

Today, the neo-pagan community, often associated with the art of fire dancing, have also embraced the Beltane festivities.

In Wales, Creiddylad was a character connected with this festival and often called the May Queen. The maypole and its dance is a remnant of these old festivities.

In Finland, May 1 was celebrated as Rowan Witch Day, a time of honoring the goddess Rauni, who was associated with the mouton ash or rowan tree. Twigs and branches of the rowan were, and still are, used as protection against evil in this part of the world.