A May Day I never knew

It’s May 1, and where I live, today is a public holiday celebrated as May Day, Labour Day, or Workers’ Day. No matter what they call it though, for most people today is just a second Sunday. They wake up late, display fantastic gluttony for lunch, and spend the rest of the day on the couch, switching through channels on the television.

Every TV channel has special programmes lined up for today. They’re not motivational speeches and documentaries about how the labour laws came about, but movies, and interviews with film stars about what they like to eat at movie sets. And after a heavy lunch, people love to lay back and watch film stars flash their teeth at the screen.

It’s weird that we spend an entire day relaxing when we should be commemorating the efforts of the working class. However, for as long as I remember, May Day has been the same in my society: once in a while, a bunch of activists would organise a peaceful rally, and all shops will shut down for the day — because the cost of not doing so would be a hefty fine.

So when I woke up this morning, I expected nothing more. However, for the first time in my life, I was curious to know what May Day meant for the rest of the world.
May Day is an ancient spring festival in Europe, I realised with gloom. It’s a tradition where people celebrate soil fertility with social gatherings and games.

And here I thought the first of May was Workers’ Day. I dug deeper, and found out that the spring festival combined with many other seasonal festivals throughout Europe, to make May Day a popular holiday. It had existed for years before the International Socialist Conference decided to declare the same day as international workers’ day.

Workers’ Day is nowhere related to May Day — and that came as a shocker. We’ve always referred to the International Workers’ Day as May Day. As for the actual May Day, we’d never even heard of it.

Even my school book taught me that May 1 was for workers, when in fact, it’s something else altogether. We had learnt to appreciate the labourers amongst us, but we hadn’t learnt that the law came into practice only in 1904 overshadowing a centuries-old custom. I was appalled, but it wasn’t the first time that our education system had hidden parts of facts. The result? An entire generation of more than half of the world grew up oblivious to the fact that May Day traditions were older than Labour Day celebrations. It’s no big deal, you might think, but in a way, this makes me question everything I’ve studied in my history classes.

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