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May Day! May Day! – Celebrating Labour Day

May Day! May Day! – Celebrating Labour Day

  • It might feel like the days and weeks of social distancing are just rushing us by. That’s why it’s important to remember that there is plenty to celebrate even during these quarantined days.

It might feel like the days and weeks of social distancing are just rushing us by. That’s why it’s important to remember that there is plenty to celebrate even during these quarantined days.

I will carefully avoid a be-grateful-for-what-you-have speech, but I would like to share some fun facts about one of Hungary’s national holidays, the 1st of May.
For us Hungarians, this is our Labour Day, but there’s much more to it than meets the eye.

Labour Day

Otherwise known as Workers’ Day, its antecedents date back to the industrial revolution. It was in 1817 that a factory owner, Robert Owen published the demands of his workers which included – among other things – the demand for the 10-16 hour work day to be reduced to 8 hours. Hence the catchy ‘Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest’ slogan.


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Then on May 1, 1886, a general strike took place for the eight-hour workday in Chicago. On May 4, unidentified anarchists threw a bomb at the police, against which they responded by opening fire on the workers. Seven police officers and four workers lost their lives.May 1st was named Labour Day in 1890 to commemorate this tragic event.

As an act of solidarity, many strikes and movements took place in the coming years that resulted in the expansion of rights and opportunities for workers.
In Hungary, May 1st 1946 marks the first official Workers’ Day.

Joseph, the patron saint of workers

The Catholic faith celebrates Saint Joseph on this day.
Pope Pius XI. deliberately chose this day to celebrate Saint Joseph, as a rebellion against communism.


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The father of Jesus is considered a patron saint for carpenters, woodworkers, foresters, lumberjacks, coopers, tanners, cartwrights and coffin makers, but he also protects young lovers, newlyweds, families, orphans and those on their deathbeds. People may turn to him in times of building a house, temptation, hopeless causes or even eye illness.

Love, Nature, Rebirth, Fertility… Spring

In pagan cultures, May 1st marks the first day of the sunny part of the year, the rebirth of nature. This was the day of the year when animals were first taken out into the fields.

Apparently, our traditions have a lot in common with that of the Irish-Celtic Bealtain. The maypole represents the God, while the greenery and flowers symbolize the Goddess.


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Bealtain was originally a festival of fire, where the love of the God and Goddess was celebrated.

In Hungary, young men presented maypoles to the girls who they were in love with. It was a declaration of their affections, creativity and masculinity.  The acquisition, decoration and setting up of the tree happened in the dead of night, and boys often guarded their trees all night long, so as to protect it from other jealous suitors of the lucky girl in question.

Sadly, you will not see any pretty trees decorated with ribbons in the city, but in villages, this tradition still lives on.

Cute traditions, fun facts, superstitions

  • Are you thinking of starting a new endeavour or project? Do it on the 1st of May, as according to folklore, ventures started on this day will be successful
  • Hungarian rock band Beatrice commemorated Robert Owen’s slogan in their song, 8 óra munka (Eight hours labour)
  • Something to try: On the morning of May 1, hang ribbons on the branches of a tree and with each ribbon, add a wish. You might start a new tradition
  • Another symbol of this holiday is the cauldron, signifying the essence of the feminine being which accepts the male aspect represented by the maypole
  • If you like the idea of a maypole, you can make a miniature version with a branch and some colourful ribbons
  • Spells cast during this time of year are supposed to be very strong

You see? Spring’s not cancelled! Now go and have a wonderful – albeit masked, gloved and sanitized – May Day!

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