For those Americans who have heard of May Day, probably the first thing that comes to mind is the celebrations in Great Britain. Dancing around the May Pole, crowning of the Queen of the May, Morris Dancers, and so forth. During the period of Puritan repression of the people of England (1649 - 1660) May Day was outlawed, which explains why here in New England, founded by Puritans, the May Day traditions never took hold. But even in the rest of America, May Day is not widely observed. May Day traditions are observed in various ways in several other European nations. The origins are unclear and may even trace all the way back to the ancient Roman festival of Floralia, which was celebrated on the fourth day before the Calends of May (April 28th in our calendar).
May Day is also, in many nations, Labour Day (or Workers Day, or some other name of the same effect). The connection of May 1st and honoring working men and women goes back to 1889, when some socialists named it International Workers Day. The Catholic Church celebrates Saint Joseph the Worker, as an optional memorial, on May 1st.
Here in America, where we don't have much use for socialist ideas, we celebrate our Labor Day on the first Monday in September. Actually, we capitalists had our Labor Day before the socialists. The first Labor Day celebration in the U.S. was on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York. The following year it was repeated on September 5th, which was a Monday. Fairly quickly the first Monday in September came to be designated as Labor Day, first by a few States, and then more, so that by 1894 Labor Day was a public holiday in 23 of the 44 States. (Civics quiz, which States were admitted to the Union after 1894? Answer at the bottom of this column.) In 1894 Labor Day, on the first Monday in September, was designated a federal holiday.
So, why is it that in the movies, when a plane or ship is in extreme distress, someone gets on the radio and cries, "Mayday, mayday, mayday?" Well, in 1923, a senior radio officer, Frederick Stanley Mockford, in Croydon Airport in London, England was asked to think of one word that would be easy to understand for all pilots and ground staff in the event of an emergency. He came up with Mayday from the French m'aidez ("help me!") In 1927, the International Radiotelegraph Convention of Washington adopted the voice call Mayday and defined it as corresponding to the French pronunciation of the expression m'aidez. It is said three times to remove any possibility of ambiguity.
* * *
QUIZ ANSWER. The following States were admitted to the Union after 1894: Utah, January 4, 1896, Oklahoma, November 16, 1907, New Mexico, January 6, 1912, Arizona, February 14, 1912, Alaska, January 3, 1959, Hawaii, August 21, 1959.