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Origins of Labor/May Day

Daniel Carvalheiro-Santos, Staff Writer

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On May 1, everybody in the world was awarded a day off to protest unfair labor conditions and other concerns they had regarding their employers or occupations, everybody, that is, except for the United States, Canada, and other countries that don’t give their people these rights. At least, in the United States and Canada, if we are patient, our holiday will come on the first Monday of September. We will be celebrating a long weekend and the unofficial end of summer… right? Well, this is the modern interpretation of this summer holiday, but Labor Day was initially intended to honor people’s labor. Today, Labor Day is generally celebrated with a visit to the beach. The Labor Day or May Day that was celebrated in Europe and throughout much of the free world is known in America as International Worker’s Day. How did this commemoration of a nation’s labor day on May 1 begin?

The holiday was first celebrated as part of a pagan holiday throughout Europe but primarily traces its origins to the Germanic states. Florelia, or the Festival to the Roman goddess Flora, goddess of the flowers, is probably the earliest and most similar representation of the modern May Day festivities. With the evangelization of Europe, the holiday had to be changed and adapted to Christian standards. Therefore, Germany made May Day a feast day for St. Walpurga, who is venerated in the Catholic Church. This gave the German people an opportunity to use the anniversary of the canonization of St. Walpurga as a replacement for the real symbolism behind the May Day Festivities, which often include a maypole where observants of this holiday perform what has been traditionally known as the maypole dance.

Today, the celebration of May Day in its ritualistic manner is usually only observed by ultra-traditional populations in areas where there was a heavy presence of the Romans. In contrast, the holiday is commonly celebrated as International Worker’s Day. Interestingly, the modern world has done the same thing as the recently evangelized Germans did. Since the practice of every single saint veneration was becoming antiquated, we adapted the holiday to be more widely accepted internationally. This plan has worked, and today International Worker’s Day or Labor Day is commemorated in 160 countries with the exception of only a few. I believe it is important that we recognize the labor of our nation’s citizens and that of other nations’ citizens, and thankfully, in the United States of America, we have the right to publically celebrate.

Photo Credits to AP Photo

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