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Protests and festivals – May Day across Europe

[google-map-v3 shortcodeid=”86f253ba” width=”500″ height=”500″ zoom=”12″ maptype=”roadmap” mapalign=”center” directionhint=”false” language=”default” poweredby=”false” maptypecontrol=”true” pancontrol=”true” zoomcontrol=”true” scalecontrol=”true” streetviewcontrol=”true” scrollwheelcontrol=”false” draggable=”true” tiltfourtyfive=”false” enablegeolocationmarker=”false” enablemarkerclustering=”false” addmarkermashup=”false” addmarkermashupbubble=”false” addmarkerlist=”Athens{}1-default.png{}In Greece, May 1st has both political significance and traditional rituals relating to spring and mother Earth. Protests and strikes occur in most major cities, but May 1st is also considered the “flower festivity,” a tradition that finds its roots in Ancient Greece. On that day, everyone goes out in the fields with friends and family, enjoying the warm weather and picking flowers. These will decorate big flower garlands, which are then hung on front doors until June 24th, when they are dried and burnt on pyres for St. John’s celebration. (Daphne Alexandra Gambieraki)|Rome{}1-default.png{}May Day is one of the highlights in the calendar of the politically active Italian. Big demonstrations flood the centres of most Italian cities. The three major trade unions usually send their leaders to one specific town, somewhat symbolic of the labour market struggles of that year (perhaps a place where an important factory was closing down, or one where an incident on the job occurred). The biggest celebration is in Rome, where the morning corteo (demonstraton) flows into the xxx for a free concert that lasts into the night. The not-so-politically-active instead enjoy the usually fine weather by going to the beach or relaxing with their families. (SLP)|Amsterdam{}1-default.png{}The Low Countries do not celebrate May Day at all. Some argued that it was because it would have fallen between the former Queen’s birthday celebration and the Liberation Day (May 5th) festivities, and so they did not want to add another holiday to an already holidays-filled calendar. The actual reason seems to be a more practical one. As a Dutch friend, a student at the time once stated, most Dutch people would find it hypocritical to celebrate Labour’s day by not going to work. (SLP)|London{}1-default.png{}As in other European countries May-day falls on the same day as International Workers Day. In the past this has seen a number of anti-globalisation demonstrations and marches. This occurred in 2001 when the police made a number of arrests at disturbances across London. However, May-day is also associated with festival-type events. In Scotland the Beltane fire festival is held on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. In England, Morris dancing and crowning a May-queen; often referred to as ‘dancing round the Maypole’ are common on May-day. These celebrations are thought to be pagan Anglo-Saxon as well as Celtic in origin. (Greg Bianchi)|Paris{}1-default.png{}France Much like in Italy, France’s demonstrations take over the major cities’, but as demonstrations happen frequently in France, it is not an unusual sight. Most people see the day as a regular holiday, people go to see their families, their friends or stay at home. (Marine Le Duc)|Berlin{}1-default.png{}The Easter and May Day times are associated with the end of winter in German culture. One of the traditions associated with the beginning of spring are singing May in, where people gather in the evening of April 30th and sing May and Spring songs until the clock strikes midnight. Another one is the May tree. While men from most other countries think that bringing their loved one flowers is romantic, the Germans took one look at them and went, Peh. Beginners. On May 1st men give the women they love a birch tree – yes, a whole tree – that they decorate with ribbons and put outside their partners’ window. (Alexandra Belopolsky). The picture gets less romantic in Berlin, and other major cities, where May 1st is known for violent demonstrations. In the capital, neo-Nazi groups used to demonstrate in Prenzlauer Berg, while the antifascist movements were in Kreuzberg, burning cars and breaking banks windows in protest. All the banks were protected as if under siege. However, in 2011* (or maybe before), following municipality’s directives, a street party is organised in Kreuzberg to curb violence while allowing for public demonstrations. (Marine Le Duc)|Bucharest{}1-default.png{}In Romania, everyone who can goes to the seaside. This has been a tradition since the communist regime, because people wanted to escape from the hard life. Festivals and parties are organised along the shores for two or three days. (Marine Le Duc)|Sofia{}1-default.png{}Labour Day has been an official holiday in Bulgaria since the end of the 19th century. During the Communist regime (1945-1989) big parades had workers from every institution or organisation marching through the city centres. Children and students paraded in their uniforms and would often sing songs or recite poems. Since the 1990s the only demonstrations are those organised by the Socialist party, which are usually attended by the Socialist party’s members and supporters. Occasionally, open-air concerts are organised, too. Fun fact: there is a small town in Southern Bulgaria called Purvomai, first of May. It was named in 1947 and has retained it ever since. (Petya Yankova)|Warsaw{}1-default.png{}Celebrating May Day in Poland bears the sign of the countries’ communist past. During the 45 years under the regime, the parades were obligatory and had nothing to do with a spontaneous working class celebrations. After 1989, a debate about the holiday ensued. Some even wanted to cancel it. Nevertheless it remained, and other than the post-communist partys celebrations, a few interesting bottom-up initiatives have emerged. One of the is the special exploitation zone, which are demonstrations that underline the negative effects of Polish economic transition – namely special economic zones that opened a floor to foreign investors and to labour law infringements. Another example is an intriguing Catholic reinterpretation of May 1st as the day of Saint Joseph the Craftsman, which highlights the importance of labour and refuses the conservative-liberal simplification typical for the majority of the Polish Catholic right. (Ziemowit Jóźwik)” bubbleautopan=”true” distanceunits=”miles” showbike=”false” showtraffic=”false” showpanoramio=”false”]

May 1st is a national holiday in most European countries. Because of its cultural and political significance, this day represents an opportunity to compare European traditions.

May Day used to be associated to the beginning of spring and since ancient times it had been celebrated as a festival of flowers and rebirth after the winter. Then, in 1889, the Socialists and Communists of the Second International proclaimed May Day the International Workers’ Day to commemorate the workers who died in Chicago while demonstrating to demand an 8 hour working day.

Pandeia presents how these two different aspects of history and culture are reflected in contemporary European celebrations. Special thanks to all those who sent us contributions. Click on the map above to learn more about May Day across Europe

 

02-1st of May demoGreece

In Greece, May 1st has both political significance and traditional rituals relating to spring and mother Earth. Protests and strikes occur in most major cities, but May 1st is also considered the “flower festivity,” a tradition that finds its roots in Ancient Greece. On that day, everyone goes out in the fields with friends and family, enjoying the warm weather and picking flowers. These will decorate big flower garlands, which are then hung on front doors until June 24th, when they are dried and burnt on pyres for St. John’s celebration. (Daphne Alexandra Gambieraki)

Italy

May Day is one of the highlights in the calendar of the politically active Italian. Big demonstrations flood the centres of most Italian cities. The three major trade unions usually send their leaders to one specific town, somewhat symbolic of the labour market struggles of that year (perhaps a place where an important factory was closing down, or one where an incident on the job occurred). The biggest celebration is in Rome, where the morning corteo (demonstraton) flows into the Piazza San Giovanni for a free concert that lasts into the night. The not-so-politically-active instead enjoy the usually fine weather by going to the beach or relaxing with their families. (SLP)

Netherlands

The Low Countries do not celebrate May Day at all. Some argued that it was because it would have fallen between the former Queen’s birthday celebration and the Liberation Day (May 5th) festivities, and so they did not want to add another holiday to an already holidays-filled calendar. The actual reason seems to be a more practical one. As a Dutch friend, a student at the time once stated, most Dutch people would find it hypocritical to celebrate Labour’s day by not going to work.  (SLP)

Morris dancingUK

As in other European countries May-day falls on the same day as International Workers Day. In the past this has seen a number of anti-globalisation demonstrations and marches. This occurred in 2001 when the police made a number of arrests at disturbances across London. However, May-day is also associated with festival-type events. In Scotland the Beltane fire festival is held on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. In England, Morris dancing and crowning a May-queen; often referred to as ‘dancing round the Maypole’ are common on May-day. These celebrations are thought to be pagan Anglo-Saxon as well as Celtic in origin. (Greg Bianchi)

France

Much like in Italy, France’s demonstrations take over the major cities’, but as demonstrations happen frequently in France, it is not an unusual sight. Most people see the day as a regular holiday, people go to see their families, their friends or stay at home. (Marine Le Duc)

Hamburg May Day poster Germany

The Easter and May Day times are associated with the end of winter in German culture. One of the traditions associated with the beginning of  spring are “singing May in,” where people gather in the evening of April 30th and sing May and Spring songs until the clock strikes midnight.  Another one is the May tree. While men from most other countries think that bringing their loved one flowers is romantic, the Germans took  one look at them and went, “Peh. Beginners”. On May 1st men give the women they love a birch tree – yes, a whole tree – that they decorate with  ribbons and put outside their partners’ window. (Alexandra Belopolsky).

The picture gets less romantic in Berlin, and other major cities, where May 1st is known for violent demonstrations. In the capital, Neonazi used to demonstrate in Prenzlauer Berg, while the antifascist movements were in Kreuzberg, burning cars and breaking banks’ windows in protest. All the banks were protected as if under siege. However, following particularly violent riots in 2009, a street party is organised in Kreuzberg to curb violence while allowing for public demonstration. (Marine Le Duc)

 Romania

In Romania, everyone who can goes to the seaside. This has been a tradition since the communist regime, because people wanted to escape  from the “hard life”. Festivals and parties are organised along the shores for two or three days. (Marine Le Duc)

Bulgaria

03-1st of May demoLabour Day has been an official holiday in Bulgaria since the end of the 19th century. During the Communist regime (1945-1989) big parades had workers from every institution or organisation marching through the city centres. Children and students paraded in their uniforms and would often sing songs or recite poems. Since the 1990s the only demonstrations are those organised by the Socialist party, which are usually attended by the Socialist party’s members and supporters. Occasionally, open-air concerts are organised, too. Fun fact: there is a small town in Southern Bulgaria called Purvomai, first of May. It was named in 1947 and has retained it ever since. (Petya Yankova)

Poland

Celebrating May Day in Poland bears the sign of the countries’ communist past. During the 45 years under the regime, the parades were obligatory and had nothing to do with a spontaneous working class’ celebrations. After 1989, a debate about the holiday ensued. Some even wanted to cancel it. Nevertheless it remained, and other than the post-communist party’s celebrations, a few interesting bottom-up initiatives have emerged. One of the is the “special exploitation zone,” which are demonstrations that underline the negative effects of Polish economic transition – namely special economic zones that opened a floor to foreign investors and to labour law infringements. Another example is an intriguing Catholic reinterpretation of May 1st as the day of Saint Joseph the Craftsman, which highlights the importance of labour and refuses the conservative-liberal simplification typical for the majority of the Polish Catholic right. (Ziemowit Jóźwik)

Belarus

Memories of the Soviet Union resurface in Belarus on May Day, so normally people try avoiding attending the annual parade organised by the authorities. Participation in the parade is however strongly encouraged and, for students, it can even be rewarded with longer holidays. The parade represents the Presidency’s attempt to showcase its power, since it presents Belarus’ typical manufactured goods in a pompous and slightly ridiculous manner – similar to Soviet times. Overall, people are happy to have another day off work, but they rather look forward to May 9th, in which the country celebrates victory in World War Two. (Kristina Vitek)

How does your country celebrate May Day? Leave a message and let us know so we can broaden our coverage.

Collation by: Sofia Lotto Persio

Picture credits: Protests in Berlin by Marine Le Duc, Hamburg protest poster by Sofia Lotto Persio, Morris dancers by Feggy Art

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