UK

What Is May Day And Why Do We Have A Bank Holiday?

It's more than just maypoles and lie-ins.

30/04/2017 10:03 BST

Traditionally, May Day is celebrated on 1 May, but in the UK the bank holiday is held on the first Monday of the month.

By happy coincidence, this year the bank holiday falls on Monday 1 May (last year it was on the 2 May.)

While for many, May Day is simply associated with the chance to have a lie-in, the day also has a tradition of political protest.

May Day Protests

In the UK, May Day has recently become linked to International Workers’ Day, known as Labour Day in some other countries.

This is a celebration of labourers and the working classes and in recent years has seen large-scale protests organised by the anti-capitalist movement in cities including London, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

In 2000, protests in London saw a statue of Winston Churchill and the Cenotaph defaced.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joins thousands of people in Clerkenwell Green at last year's May Day rally 

This year, Labour MP John McDonnell is confirmed to speak at the trade union rally, as is Mark Serwotka, the General Secretary of the PCS union. The march will leave Clerkenwell Green at 1.30pm, with a rally starting in Trafalgar Square at around 2.30. 

Around the world, other protests often take place in association with International Workers’ Day. In the United States, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their allies are expected to march in protest of President Donald Trump.

The History Of May Day

May Day has roots in pagan tradition celebrating spring, firstly Floralia, the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers.

It also has roots in the Gaelic celebration of Beltane, marking the beginning of summer.

May Day celebrations were banned in Britain by the Puritan government following the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649. They were, however, reinstated with the restoration of Charles II in 1660.

bank holiday was celebrated in Scotland since 1871 but was only introduced in the rest of the UK in 1978 by the then-employment secretary Michael Foot.

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The Queen watches May Pole dancing by children of Carn Gwaval School from St Mary's, Isles of Scilly at Falmouth

May Day Traditions

In some villages, a maypole is erected with ribbons attached. People, often children of the village, dance around the pole. The symbolism of this tradition is hotly debated, with some suggesting the pole represents the Earth’s axis while others claim it is a phallic symbol associated with fertility.

Morris dancers, dressed in traditional costumes and wearing bell pads on their shins, may perform while wielding items such as sticks, swords or handkerchiefs.

Some celebrations may also see a May Queen crowned. Often a young girl wearing white and crowned with flowers, the May Queen may make a speech before leading a procession.