May Day, May 1, is a traditional spring festival which, in the Northern hemisphere, has its origins in Pagan festivals – notably that of Beltane, the celebration of spring – adapted over time as Christianity spread. It’s exactly six months before All Hallows (Hallowe’en).
Across Northern Europe, there are festivities. In Estonia,for example, Volbriöö is celebrated throughout the night of 30 April with folk dressing up as witches in a mood of celebration, leading into ‘Spring Day’ today, May 1 (Kevadpüha). In Finland, ‘Walpurgis day’ (Vappu) is a massive carnival, leading into a day of picnics on May 1. Walpurgisnacht in Germany on April 30 has stories of witches meeting to greet the spring. Valborgsmässoafton or simply Valborg in Sweden sees huge bonfires. Traditionally in Britain, rites included dancing around a maypole.
May day traditions have adapted, grown and been expanded by students through the years and to list all of the festivals here would be a blog post stretching into next year.
In the UK, celebration of May Day was historically banned. Although this is no longer the case, there are pockets of celebrations. And a bank holiday (day off) is awarded on the first Monday of the month. (this year, May7.) This neatly bypasses the politicians’ problem of May Day, the International Worker’s Day celebration (also known as Dag van de Arbeid, Feest van de Arbeid, Journée des Travailleurs, Fête du Travail, Dia del Trabajo….) which brings workers and their unions onto the streets in over 80 countries around the World, across most continents.
This may surprise many in the US, however, where the first Monday in September is Labor Day. The focus here is a celebration of the contributions of workers – elsewhere the focus is on rights.
Add to this that, in the Netherlands (and the places it once colonised in Caribbean), yesterday was Queen’s Day, Koninginnedag, also known as Orange Day, and we have two days of festivities across the World, celebrated differently in every country, that anyone working in a cross cultural context should take into account.
When people work in an office surrounded by people who know that there’s a national holiday, it’s easy to forget that the same isn’t being celebrated worldwide. Our rule of thumb for anyone working in an international context is to expect the unexpected.
- Shared diaries help, but once a month why not look together at what’s being celebrated in the six weeks ahead? The way that countries celebrate are a strong cultural clue, and as people go through their diaries you’ll probably also find out about other important personal events like people’s birthdays, weddings, graduations, and other important life events. This information is invaluable for planning, scheduling and making sure that you’re not making impossible demands of colleagues.
- Find out more about working in a cross cultural context here