What is May Day?

Find out why May 1 is commemorated as May Day every year here.

You've probably heard the SOS cry "May Day, May Day, May Day!" or seen it on your calendar on May 1, but do you know what May Day actually is? Turns out, it's a lot of things. 

As explained in the NBC Chicago video above, May Day is the commemoration of International Workers' Day, which celebrates the labor movement by recognizing the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 in Chicago, in which a bomb was thrown into a crowd of demonstrators. 

But May Day is also much more. According to InfoPlease.com, "it's a celebration of Spring. It's a day of political protests. It's a neopagan festival, a saint's feast day. ... In many countries, it is a national holiday."

The first day of May is celebrated differently all over the world, but in the United States, some people make May baskets to celebrate early European settlers reaching this continent. The baskets are filled with flowers and treats and are left on neighbors doorsteps. 

The Maypole is a staple of May Day around the world. According to TheHolidaySpot.com, centuries ago, European villages would compete to build the tallest Maypole.

As for the distress call "May Day, May Day, May Day," the term originates from 1923, when Senior Radio Officer Frederick Stanley Mockford was asked to come up with an easy-to-understand signal meaning "help me now." According to WantToKnowIt.com, he chose "May Day" because it sounds similar to "m'aider" the French phrase meaning "come help me." 

To celebrate in Capitola-Soquel is pretty simple. Most items you need to make your May Day basket can be found in your home. You can use any old box (tissue box, cardboard oatmeal cannister, etc.), scissors and glue. Check out in Soquel or in Capitola to pick up crepe paper, pipe cleaners, silk flowers and any other trinkets to put in the basket. For full instructions on putting your basket together, click here.

So now you know all about May Day. How will you celebrate? Tell us in the comments!

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Cathy P. May 01, 2012 at 06:09 PM
We used to do this as kids: weave small baskets out of construction paper and fill with flowers (picked from neighbor's yards - oops!) and hang them on neighbors' front door knobs. We were supposed ring the doorbell and high tail it outta there before we were seen so it would be a surprise.
Watzon McWats May 01, 2012 at 06:25 PM
The distress call "Mayday", is one word. As with Mayday, most all radio distress calls (pan-pan, securite, seelonce, feenee, etc,) have french origins.


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