Outside of “Island Life”, May Day is a day that is not celebrated by perhaps as many people as is, say, Mother’s Day or Christmas, but it is significant nonetheless. This is because May Day is a celebration of our passing into spring – which, while we technically have entered spring already, for a lot of people it hasn’t felt like that quite yet. I know that up here in Minnesota, the snow is only barely starting to go away! Either way, in general, May is when the flowers finally start to bloom and spring begins to feel spring-like. One of the best ways to celebrate such an occasion is to incorporate flower leis into the celebration.
Flower leis are garlands with flowers interwoven into them, though they can have other things included as well, such as nuts and shells. One of the beauties of using flower leis in a May Day celebration is that they do not clash with other decorative or celebratory items. And of course, flowers and other assorted decorative items being as visually diverse as they are, it is a good option for people who want to keep things fresh visually. However, despite the association with spring, May Day has much more significance than just that, and a significance that should not be forgotten.
May Day is celebrated on May 1 every year, and is celebrated in many different places including mainland United States and the island of Hawaii (where it is referred to as ‘Lei Day’). The first May Day was actually a very different affair from how it is seen today. Back in 1886, working conditions were even worse than they are today. Workers were often working 10-16 hour days, and on top of that, they were not given a very safe work environment. For these workers, death and injury were commonplace. Eventually, the working class demanded an eight-hour working day, much to the chagrin of the employers who wished to retain the status quo.
There was an unfortunate series of attacks on both sides, though reports show that police and hired goons perpetrated much of it. Indeed, a bomb was thrown into a group of police officers that lead to more than a dozen dead, but the understanding today is that the fatalities were almost exclusively caused by the reactive gunfire by the police. In all, eight protesters were convicted over the killings, though all eight of them were either entirely visible when the bomb was thrown or were not present at the attack altogether. This incident lead to the perception of socialists as terrorists and un-American, a perception that exists to this day. There have even been incidents where the government tried to diminish the holiday, such as when President Eisenhower declared May 1 “Law and Order Day,” a move that ultimately failed.
Today, a lot of people don’t know the true origin of May Day, and just think of it as a spring festival and nothing more. And while it is all well and good to celebrate the day with flower leis and other spring-themed items, remember to do so while acknowledging everything that went down to cause May Day to exist in the first place. After all, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.