May Day, first day of May. Its celebration probably originated in the spring fertility festivals of India and Egypt. The festival of the Roman goddess of spring, Flora, was celebrated from Apr. 28 to May 3. In medieval England the chief feature of the celebration of May Day was the Maypole; this was decorated with flowers and streamers, the loose ends of which were held by dancers, who encircled the pole, weaving intricate patterns as they passed each other in the dance. These dances are still performed for exhibition purposes in England and the United States. The Second Socialist International in 1889 designated May Day as the holiday for labor, and since that time it has been the occasion for demonstrations, parades, and speeches among socialists and communists.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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