Why Do We Celebrate May Day?

May Day is a public holiday on or around the first of May. It is primarily celebrated as the first day of summer in countries with ancient European pagan heritage, but is also the date of International Workers’ Day which recognises the Chicago Haymarket Affair.

Traditional May Day festivities coincide with the end of the sowing season for farmers, and celebrate springtime fertility. The occasion is often marked by village fetes and community gatherings with dancing, singing, and cake.

However, countries that celebrate International Workers’ Day have a much more sober reason for doing so. At the 1884 American Trade Union Congress a deadline of two years was set for an eight-hour working day to be introduced, resulting in a period of strike action.

On 4th May 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago, a peaceful rally was held in response to police opening fire on striking workers the day before. Unfortunately, it ended in tragedy when someone threw a dynamite bomb at the police, resulting in a clampdown on unions.