Holiday traditions change. New holidays are born, and old ones die out. May Day is one of the holidays that has almost disappeared. Today, very little is left to remind us of what May Day used to be like.
The first day of May was once celebrated as the passage between the seasons of winter and spring, and is one of the world's oldest holidays.May Day probably arose from a Roman pagan rite of spring: flower dances and procession were offered to Flora, the goddess of flowers. The celebration began on April 28 and lasted until May 3. As one part of the celebration, Roman men carried flowering branches to the homes of the girls they loved.
When the Romans conquered the British Isles, the celebration of May Day went with them. The Druids there celebrated May 1 as a time of dividing the year in two. As a part of their celebration, they built a new fire in honor of the sun. Participants leaped over the flames to ensure diverse blessings: to win husbands, guarantee safe childbirth or to ward off illness.
By the Middle Ages, every village in England had its own maypole. It became a contest, in fact, to see which village could have the tallest such pole.
In 1886, the American Federation of Labor decided that May Day was a good time to begin the eight-hour working day. For a time May 1 became a European Labor Day as well.
Since the 1920s, Russia and other Communist nations have chosen May Day as a time for a great military parade in which they show off their weapons of war.
Today, where May Day is celebrated at all, it has become a festival for children. They sometimes still celebrate this arrival of spring with the building of maypoles, singing and dancing. The maypole is usually a pine tree, representing Attis, the god of vegetation. Many places choose a Queen of May to reign over the celebrations. May baskets are filled with candy or flowers and hung on the doors of family and friends.