May Day Fun Facts
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May Day Decoded1 of 10
By Julie Fishman
Celts called it Beltane and the Romans named it Floralia, but May 1 has been known as May Day since the Middle Ages. Celebrated across the globe, May Day is actually two distinct holidays: one in honor of spring and the other in recognition of workers. Find out how this two-for-one day came to be and the international celebrations it has inspired.
Spring Has Sprung2 of 10
Ancient villagers celebrated the end of the harsh winter months and the start of the fertile summer months by feasting, frolicking and competing in games. Specific customs varied between countries: Making a bonfire was popular in Sweden, crowning a May Day queen was common in Ireland, and putting on plays was the tradition in Rome.
Island Fun3 of 10
In Hawaii, May 1 is known as Lei Day, a holiday conceived in 1927 by writer and poet Don Blanding for celebrating Hawaiian culture. The event originally included the selection of a Lei Day queen and court, but it has evolved into a less formal day of lei-making competitions, concerts, and the exchanging of leis (garlands of flowers) among friends and family.
Eight Is Enough4 of 10
Also known as International Workers' Day, May Day has a connection to work that dates back to the late 19th century, when American laborers fought for an eight-hour workday. While the U.S. government moved our holiday, now known as Labor Day, to September, many countries still celebrate the labor movement on May 1.
Love Is in the Air5 of 10
In much of Western Europe and parts of America, May Day is now celebrated with traditional folk dancing around a maypole, a tree-like totem that typically stands up to ten feet tall. At one time, this practice marked the beginning of courting season for young adults.
Tall Tales6 of 10
In 1543, England built a Maypole that reached 100 feet, the country's tallest. Isaac Newton eventually purchased the pole in 1713 and used it to prop up a massive telescope.
Fertile Ground7 of 10
Worried that the rowdy festival made people frisky, the Catholic Church banned May Day celebrations in the early 1600s. The clergy wasn't the only group to point out May Day's sexual undertones: Several historians have suggested that the maypole is a phallic symbol.
Party On8 of 10
The all-female Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania has been celebrating May Day since 1900. After gathering flowers in the morning, students decorate and dance around a maypole.
May Day Munchies9 of 10
No holiday is complete without traditional food and drink. Some favorite festive eats? In Finland, celebrants enjoy Tippaleivät, fried fritters similar to funnel cakes found at county fairs, while Germans wash their meal down with Maiwein, or May Wine.
A "Cheesy" Tradition10 of 10
Every May Day, the town of Stilton, England, celebrates with a cheese-rolling contest. Costumed teams compete to roll a wooden "cheese" wheel down the city's main street to the finish line.
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