May Day is approaching; the festival which dates back many centuries is related to the Celtic festival of Beltane and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night. In the late 19th century the day became associated with the International Labour Movement and was also called Labour Day or International Workers Day. In many countries it is commemorated as a public holiday and May Day parades take place in towns and cities across Europe.
In Poland the post-communist government opted to keep May 1st as a public holiday and parades take place in many cities including Krakow, where the crowds will celebrate in the Market Square – and nowadays it is more of a celebrations of spring rather than a political, red-flag waving event.
In the Czech Republic May Day is known as the ‘Day for Love’. Lovers gather on Petrin Hill in Prague, whilst maypoles pop up in villages across the country.
In Italy, residents of Milan enjoy a lively parade which starts from Piazza 24 Maggio, with a cortège of music, dancing, slogans and floats which will head for the Sforzesco castle park. The music and festivities continue until late in the evening.
The city of Rome holds a free music concert every year, “Primo Maggio”, in the Piazza di San Giovanni. First held in 1989, Primo Maggio has fast become one of the major and most anticipated events in the Roman cultural calendar, featuring top Italian rock musicians who are occasionally joined by a high profile international guest artist.
City-break tourists may find that many attractions are closed on May Day. In Paris, most tourist attractions will be closed except the EiffelTower. The Bastille is the focus of an annual parade down the Champs Elysees, organized by the labour union. An interesting custom in this part of France is for people to give bouquets of lily-of-the-valley or dog rose flowers to loved ones. If you’re in Paris on May 1st you can look out for street vendors selling bouquets of lily of the valley just on this one day in the year.