The night before May Day every year, my mom and I would make “May Day baskets” (usually consisting of a plastic cup and ribbon handle) with candy and popcorn. I would give them to my classmates the next day and when I got home from school, I would take them to my neighbor’ houses. It was the only day of the year that I was allowed to leave gifts on someone’s porch, ring the doorbell, and run! It was like being the UPS guy.
Now that I am older, May Day is just a memory of my childhood. One day I will have children and get to experience these traditions again, but until then I think I will celebrate Czech style. May 1st is the day of love in the Czech Republic.
In smaller towns and villages Májka or maypoles are erected. They are decorated with wreaths and ribbons. Boys fight to keep their pole standing while trying knock down the neighboring villages’ pole and steal them away. Those whose poles are intact the first Sunday of the month are rewarded with the privilege to ask any young maiden to be their date to the dance that night. The evening is filled with music and dancing around the maypole, usually weaving the ribbon around the pole.
There is a statue of Karel Hynek Macha on Petřín Hill that lovers also visit on this day. Macha was a well known Romantic poet who wrote a poem about May and love. Many Czechs will go to this hill to profess their love and kiss their sweethearts. Lovers kiss under cherry trees that are in bloom so that women will stay beautiful and fertile all year round. (Have you seen a trend yet? I think fertility was pretty important).
Karel Hynek Mácha: Máj (May) Beginning verses:
Late evening, on the first of May –
The twilit May – the time of love.
Meltingly called the turtle-dove,
Where rich and sweet pinewoods lay.
Whispered of love the mosses trail,
The flowering tree as sweetly lied,
The rose’s fragrant sigh replied
To love-songs of the nightingale.
Máj isn’t just about love, it is also a national holiday across the world commemorating Labor Day. This is different from our Labor Day in the states on the first Monday of September, as it is a reminder of the hard work and advancement of labor jobs. In 1890, Labor Day was celebrated by the social democrat party as a holiday for the working people. It was not celebrated during WWI or WWII.
It became a holiday again during the time of communism, where people were encouraged to participate in parades and show off to the rest of the world how happy they were to be under the command of socialism. Many still have bad feelings of the holiday, but others are trying to return to the original meaning of the day; to celebrate a time when working people, those that worked in factories and struggled under serfdom, began to work 8 hour days, have more rights, and were seen as people.
In a changing world, conscious of rights and fairness, this is a real issue for the people of today. It is a day beyond politics, mindful of others, and surrounded by love.
Please Czech out these articles for more indepth information: