Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

Published online: Apr 26, 2021 Articles, Lifestyle Gregg Losinski
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These certainly are distressing times! To most of us in America, May 1 doesn’t really mean anything special. It just represents the beginning of the month that will end Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of summer. But once upon a time it used to be special here and as significant as it still is in other parts of the world.

In many countries, the beginning of May is special because it signifies the rebirth that spring brings. 

In Europe, particularly in pre-Christian times, all sorts of rituals took place on May 1. One of the more popular activities was dancing around a maypole which is a tall straight tree cut from the forest for this special purpose. Different cultures added different details to the celebration, but the main theme was, “We survived the winter! Let’s party before we have to work again all summer and fall to prepare to survive the next winter!” Of course, such an attitude was not appreciated by the Puritan types in the New World and such public gatherings were strongly discouraged even though there was no pandemic.  

Here in Idaho Falls, immigrants to America from Sweden brought some of their traditions with them, including dancing around the maypole. For years, Sealander Park out in New Sweden was the site of Mid-Sommars Night Celebrations. Held on the summer equinox in June, a little later than May 1, it was still a celebration of life. The park and the celebrations were so special that it even earned the park a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Hard working people gathered to celebrate being alive and they didn’t even have to wear masks, except for during that other pandemic in 1918!

In the late 1800s, as the labor rights movement was gathering steam, May 1 became the day chosen to support workers. Rallies and protests started being held every year at the start of May. 

In 1886 in Chicago, the infamous Haymarket Square Riot occurred. Labor unrest had a tie to Idaho as well years later, in 1905, former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg was assassinated by a bomb blast at his home in Caldwell by a disgruntled miner unhappy with the way the governor had handled striking miners in Idaho. The current unrest with our government might come as a shock to some, but it has always been with us as a nation in one form or another.

As communism and socialism grew across the globe, May Day became known as International Workers Day. Huge celebrations and parades were held everywhere, even in the United States. As time went by these celebrations started to focus more on military might than on the plight of the working class. The huge military parades still held in Russia, China and North Korea are remnants of these Cold War spectacles. To try and distance the United States from what May Day had become, President Eisenhower declared May 1 as Loyalty Day. 

To get an idea of how unique and interesting our little slice of America is I highly recommend heading on down to the Museum of Idaho to visit their new permanent exhibit called “Way Out West.” It really gives you a feel about how our fair city began and what it was like even before the first settlers arrived. Well worth the time and money and plenty of room for social distancing.

So, as we enter May, still struggling to break free of a virus that has attacked the entire planet, it is worth remembering what May Day symbolizes. We have survived so far and need to celebrate (at least as much as allowed under lockdown rules)! We also need to show our support for all the workers and their families who have had to live through something the likes of which have not been seen in a hundred years! 

Maybe after we all get vaccinated or reach herd immunity we should run out to the forest and cut down a huge tree and head over to Sealander Park and celebrate the May Day to end all May Days. We deserve it! 

Click here to read the May issue of Idaho Falls Magazine

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