Religion & Beliefs

What’s Jewish about May Day?

Today is May Day!  Wheeeeeeeeee!  Now, what the hell is May Day?  I have some vague sense that it involves either Communists, or little girls with ribbons and poles, or maybe Communists with ribbons and poles…. Not to mention Bunny-free … Read More

By / May 1, 2007

Today is May Day!  Wheeeeeeeeee! 

Now, what the hell is May Day?  I have some vague sense that it involves either Communists, or little girls with ribbons and poles, or maybe Communists with ribbons and poles…. Not to mention Bunny-free Easter Baskets. Well, it turns out I’m not too far off.   

May Day was first a Pagan/Celtic holiday.  The beginning of summer, and a chance to get naked and romp around in the woods. 

But also, it is celebrated as International Workers Day, and often coincides with public protests and demonstrations.  Important to note that the workers of the world did NOT just rip off the Pagans, but rather chose this day to honor martyrs of the Haymarket Riot: 

On May 1, 1886, Chicago unionists, reformers, socialists, anarchists, and ordinary workers combined to make the city the center of the national movement for an eight-hour day… Then someone hurled a bomb at the police, killing one officer instantly…Police made picketing impossible and suppressed the radical press….eight anarchists, including prominent speakers and writers, were tried for murder… The jury, instructed to adopt a conspiracy theory without legal precedent, convicted all eight. The trial is now considered one of the worst miscarriages of justice in American history. 

Which is very interesting… And I could stop typing now, because there are obvious connections between Judaism and Socialism, and that would be enough (I think) to make a Jewish understanding of May Day meaningful (since many Jews have celebrated May day as International Workers Day). 

But there’s more!

It was the Nazis, not the social democratic parties of the Weimar Republic, who made May Day a holiday in Germany, calling it the "day of work", which is its official name in the country. Through this proclamation, the Nazis tried to take up the connotations of International Workers' Day, but did not permit socialist demonstrations on this day. Instead, they adapted it to fascist purposes. Then, on May 2, 1933, the Nazis outlawed all free labour unions and other independent workers' organizations in Germany, which subsequently formed their own secret amalgamation.

Lovely.  Ribbons and maypoles and baskets full of treats… and martyrs for the eight hour day… and Nazis. Happy May Day, everyone!