May Day

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons by Susan Reimer

I do not know where or when I heard about the May Day tradition where you leave a basket of flowers on somebody's door step, ring the doorbell and run away. Tradition dictates that if you are caught you exchange a kiss. I found it intriguing and wanted to write a post about making a May Day basket. Then I fell down the rabbit hole so I'm going to take you with me.

There are many different traditions associated with May Day. Historically it was a pagan holiday and I find it interesting that the Victorians revived the practice in the 19th century without the pagan undertones. I think across the pond people have given flowers on May Day, but the kissing bit seems more like an American thing to do. 

May Pole Celebrations-photo via Mental Floss
May Day has its roots in the labor movement as well. In 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago there was a protest  in support of labor rights and the creation of an 8 hour working day. Someone threw a dynamite bomb at police and a riot ensued in which twelve people died.  Paul Hogarth wrote a fascinating article about the United States attempt to 'whitewash' the riots. 

Haymarket Riot
Then, in May of 1890, the American Federation of Labor planned a protest to lobby for an 8 hour working day in the United States. A similar protest took place in the UK in Hyde Park.  

Image via Mental Floss
At a certain point in history, due to fears about Socialism, May Day began to lose its labor relevance. Except when the Occupy movement began to gain ground it reclaimed May Day and there were parades and protests that fought for the labor movement once again. While Haymarket Square no longer exists on the map in Chicago people take to the streets to protest all the same. 
May Day March and Occupy Chicago 2012  (Love the truck!) Photo by Mikasi

May Day March and Occupy Chicago 2012 Photo by Mikasi
While we have secured an 8 hour working day here in the United States, and in general have fair labor practices, I do think the Occupy movement revealed that we do have a ways to go. Also, there are countries that still struggle to protect the even the safety, let alone the rights, of their workers. I've written before about how our consumption effects laborers in other countries. 

Poppy belonged to the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 399 (Organized December 7, 1896) and I would walk past it on my commute to when I was finishing up my undergrad at University of Illinois at Chicago ten years ago.

His union meant a lot to him because of the support it gave him, the training and the friendships he made. My grandfather was very proud of American design and ingenuity. He would lambast the goods that came in daily from China. Now I understand why. It is not just because of a belief in American exceptionalism, but because we have a history and tradition of workmanship. Today there are makers and artisans who are creating goods using ethical and environmentally safe methods. Those are the people we should be buying from. 

So, on this May Day, while I would love to give you all a basket of flowers, I also ask that we remember the many varied history of this holiday. 


Originally published 4/30/13

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