May Day

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MAY DAY. Although May Day was observed as a rite of spring in Europe for centuries, it became associated in the late nineteenth century as a workers' holiday. In 1889 an International Socialist Congress selected the first day of May as a world labor holiday to show support for labor activism in the United States. After the Haymarket Square Riot in early May 1886, the labor activists around the world followed the lead of American workers and began to agitate for an eight-hour work day. May Day was first celebrated in 1890, and many countries continue the tradition today, though the United States does not, and only recognizes Labor Day in September.


Foner, Philip S. May Day: A Short History of the InternationalWorkers' Holiday, 1886–1986. New York: International Publishers, 1986.

Panaccione, Andrea, ed. The Memory of May Day: An IconographicHistory of the Origins and Implanting of a Workers' Holiday. Venice, Italy: Marsilio Editori, 1989.

Alvin F.Harlow/h. s.

See alsoHaymarket Riot ; Labor ; Socialist Movement .

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May Day, first day of May. Its celebration probably originated in the spring fertility festivals of India and Egypt. The festival of the Roman goddess of spring, Flora, was celebrated from Apr. 28 to May 3. In medieval England the chief feature of the celebration of May Day was the Maypole; this was decorated with flowers and streamers, the loose ends of which were held by dancers, who encircled the pole, weaving intricate patterns as they passed each other in the dance. These dances are still performed for exhibition purposes in England and the United States. The Second Socialist International in 1889 designated May Day as the holiday for labor, and since that time it has been the occasion for demonstrations, parades, and speeches among socialists and communists.

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May Day First day of May, traditionally celebrated as a festival, the origin of which may lie in the spring fertility rites of pagan times. The Roman festival of Flora, goddess of spring, was held from April 28 to May 3. In England, the festivities centred on the dance round the Maypole. In some countries, May Day is a holiday in honour of workers, and may be accompanied by a military display.

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May Day • n. May 1, celebrated in many countries as a traditional springtime festival or as an international day honoring workers.