Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Happy May Day!

It's May 1 - or "May Day" - and that brings to mind some wildly disparate memories and reactions.

If you're a long-time hockey fan, you'll likely think of this:

The goal itself was actually scored on April 24, 1993 - exactly a week short of the actual "May Day" but this remains one of the most memorable goal calls in NHL history.

If you're a pagan or secularist, you might well celebrate the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane. In ancient pagan customs, May 1 was the first day of summer (the solstice, June 21 (June 25 at that time), was thought of as "mid-summer") and was observed as a day of "fertility, fire and abundance". Great Britain has traditionally celebrated "May Day" with Morris dancing (pictured at right), Maypoles and the choosing of a May Queen who leads that day's parade, clad in white and adorned with a crown of flowers.

It is also International Workers' Day in much of the world except, oddly, North America where it all began. (We choose instead to observe "Labour Day" in September.) It is a commemoration of the "Haymarket Affair" (or "Massacre") that took place in Chicago in 1886. A strike in that city to demand an 8-hour work day began on May 1 of that year, although the actual riot took place on May 4. Because I grew up in a household that was (at best) centrist in our political leanings and because it was during the Cold War years, I came to believe that May Day was a holiday meant to celebrate communism and anarchy - something to be shunned with clucking tongues. Every year there was that enormous military parade in Red Square in the former Soviet Union - almost always broadcast here in black and white to illustrate how "backwards" they were. The "Red Menace" was on full display for all of us capitalists to see; however, it always seemed to me to be the same footage - likely from wartime - used over and over every year.

As I grew older and developed my own critical thinking capabilities, I began to see through a lot of the propaganda of my youth, but this particular holiday still seemed vaguely threatening to me for many years. Only recently, as I have begun to develop some true political awareness, have I come to understand the actual history and purpose of International Workers' Day (and Labour Day, for that matter). May 1 is a national holiday in more than 80 countries and it can all be traced back to the atrocities in Chicago 136 years ago.

This year the concept of International Workers' Day has been seized by the Occupy movement and I applaud their efforts. I'm following along with the events in the US on Twitter as I write this and, although it's generally been peaceful up until now, there is definitely trouble brewing in some of the nation's larger cities. The Occupy movement has been a little quiet recently but hopefully some of the happenings on this #OpMayDay will cause a few more people to start listening. A lot of today's efforts come back, as they always do, to the original Occupy Wall Street, but there are plenty of marches, protests and "calls for inaction" taking place all over the States, in Canada and the world.

As Sarah Van Gelder comments in this excellent blog piece on the Yes! magazine website:
Even more than what people won’t be doing on May 1, though, the day is about showing up and protesting, but also building the world we want. That part of Occupy seldom gets reported on. The media is too fixated on police action and on its own angst over whether Occupy has (or should have) a list of demands. What is too often missed is that the movement is about occupying the space and the time to create a different world. People outside the political establishment understand that conventional ways of doing things don't work anymore. Too many people are hurting.

Too many people are hurting, indeed. And for my family, that list got even longer yesterday. This "system" is very broken and in need of a complete overhaul from top to bottom.

However you choose to celebrate, commemorate or acknowledge it, Happy May Day to you!


  1. Excellent! So many facts about May Day that I didn't know!

    1. Well you know me: nothing if not informative. ;)

  2. It's going quite well, so far. At the very least, it's bringing even more attention to all the issues.

    1. Well, that is fantastic news. I think we all benefit from keeping a light shining on the injustices in our society.


I've kept my comments open and moderation-free for many years, but I've been forced to now review them before they post due to the actions of one member of my family. I apologize for having to take this stance, but that's the way the world is headed, sad to say. Thank you for your understanding.

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