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MAY DAY, which is commemorated on May 1, is an ancient northern hemisphere spring festival and usually a public holiday. It is also a traditional spring holiday in many cultures. Dances, singing and cake are usually part of the celebrations that the day includes.

In the late 19th century, May Day 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.

International Workers’ Day may also be referred to as May Day, but is a different celebration from the traditional May Day.

The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times, with the Floralia, festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, held on April 27 during the Roman Republic era, and with the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries.

It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane, most commonly held on April 30. The day was a traditional summer holiday in many pre-Christian European pagan cultures. While February 1 was the first day of spring, May 1 was the first day of summer, hence the summer solstice on June 25 (now June 21) was midsummer.

As Europe became Christianised, the pagan holidays lost their religious character as May Day changed into a popular secular celebration.

A significant celebration of May Day occurs in Germany where it is one of several days on which St Walburga, credited with bringing Christianity to Germany, is celebrated.

The secular version of May Day, observed in Europe and America, may be best known for their traditions of dancing around the maypole and crowning the queen of May. Fading in popularity since the late 20th century is the giving of “May baskets”, small baskets of sweets or flowers, usually left anonymously on neighbours’ doorsteps.

In Great Britain, May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries. May Day is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility (of the soil, livestock, and people) and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings.

Seeding has been completed by this date and it was convenient to give farm labourers a day off. Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the maypole, around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons.

In the 20th century May Day has also become linked to International Workers’ Day in Great Britain, even though the holiday is not officially “Labour Day”.

In some countries, May Day was, and in some environments remains, the date of protests, largely around issues associated with the violation of basic employment rights and occupational safety and health concerns.

Barbados celebrates May 1 (May Day) as an official public holiday in recognition of International Workers’ Day, which is used by the labour movement as a time of reflection and thanksgiving.

Activities include a major rally with speeches from representatives of the Social Partners, local, national, regional and international trades unions and other organisations.

As Barbados celebrates May Day 2016, let us, the Social Partners, recommit to the core International Labour Organisation conventions to ensure decent and sustainable jobs for our working-age population.

Anthony Walcott is Executive director, Barbados Employers’ Confederation.


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