Early May bank holiday: May Day and International Worker’s Day

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Maypole Dancing
The 1st of May is a bit of a mixed day. Officially the UK has the early May bank holiday the 1st of May (or closest Monday) . In most countries it is worker’s day and traditionally in Northern Europe it is May day. In the UK it is deliberately not called either May Day or Worker’s Day to avoid any issues.  

International worker’s day

In 1886 many Chicago workers went on strike to demand an 8-hour work day, after a few days a bomb was detonated and a firearm fight started. In the end 8 workers died while defending their rights. In 1904 the International Socialist Congress declared that “all Social Democratic Party organisations and trade unions of all countries [are] to demonstrate energetically on the First of May for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace” and that it was “mandatory upon the proletarian organisations of all countries to stop work on 1 May, wherever it is possible without injury to the workers”. Most countries now have an unmovable bank holiday on May 1st.  

May Day

May day was the traditional day when Spring’s arrival was celebrated. In most Celtic cultures it is called Beltane, and it is still celebrated today. In the UK it’s still common to find celebrations particularly in countryside areas of Ireland and Scotland. It is a celebration of life waking up after Winter. The most common celebrations include:
  • Maypole: a tall wooden pole with bright coloured ribbons coming from the top. Dancers grab a ribbon each and dance around the pole. Sometimes when the dance is finished the pole ends up being covered with the ribbons as a way of decoration.
  • Morris dancing: a traditional folk dance of the British Isles. The rhythm is marked by loud stepping, usually from special wooden shoes. Dancers usually have bells, shiny objects and handkerchiefs attached to their costumes, and they usually dance in groups of 6. Many times they carry swords or sticks on their hands that help mark the rhythm of the dancing.
  • Town fetes: celebrations held in each town where people usually bring food to share.
  • May Queen: a young girl (usually school age) who is selected to be the representative of that year’s celebration during the town fete and sometimes for other events throughout the year.

May 1st and early May bank holiday in London

For International Worker’s day there are usually demonstrations by the anti-capitalist movement in all large cities of the UK. This year, there’s going to be a rally in Central London during the morning starting at Farringdon and ending at Trafalgar Square. So try to avoid those areas as they will get crowded. There have been some issues with the police in the past, but in recent years it has been peaceful. As for May Day celebrations, you’re better off leaving the capital and going to surrounding towns and cities. Most large towns in Kent have traditional May Day celebrations (some highlights include Medway, Maidstone and Hastings), as do Oxford and Cambridge. If you have the time and money, Scotland is the best place to go. Another event that takes place around this day is May day run, when motorcycles drive all the way from London to Hastings. This year it will be a 3-day celebration taking place on the 5th, 6th and 7th of May to celebrate 40 years of the run with plenty of events for bike fans. To know more about is always better to learn the English language with Way Language school.