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1st May – Labour Day

Posted by on May 2, 2013

The “1st of May” is a day known by a variety of names throughout the more than 80 countries in the world where the holiday is celebrated today.  “Labour Day”, “International Workers’ Day” and “May Day” are some of the most common ways we refer to the holiday.  Traditionally observed by “the working class”, working people and their labour unions celebrate by taking part in organised street demonstrations and marches. 

Under Communism, the May 1st holiday held a particularly special meaning in the countries of the Eastern bloc.  Official May Day celebrations were held not only in the capitals of central and eastern European countries which were under Communist rule but also throughout every major town where leaders of the Communist party could greet the people.  In this way, a whole nation celebrated rather than just a city.  Nevertheless, the celebrations remained greatest in the capitals where an impressive military display was presided over by the Party’s secretary general in that country.  Banners with political slogans often decorated the landscape, reminding the populous of the importance and strength of the common worker’s role in upholding a nation. 

In Bulgaria, one of the countries of the former Eastern bloc of countries, the 1st of May is an official holiday and is known as “Labour Day and International Workers’ Solidarity Day”.  While the holiday was first observed in 1890 by the Bulgarian Topographical Association, it wasn’t declared an official holiday until 1939.  From 1945, the communist authorities began to celebrate the holiday annually.

Soldiers celebrate 1st May from the frontline, Bulgaria, 1918

Soldiers celebrate 1st May from the frontline, Bulgaria, 1918

While the 1st of May is most commonly associated to these countries’ communist past, it has proven to last beyond political systems and be revered for something greater – the people.  Since 1989 and the end of socialism and communism in the former Eastern bloc, the 1st of May continues to be a public holiday, celebrated and respectfully revered.  The only difference today is that manifestations such as marches and mass events are no longer the commitment of the state authorities and people are left to organise themselves in celebrating this holiday, a commemoration to the worker, regardless of country, decade or political system. 


2 Responses to 1st May – Labour Day

  1. Nicola Stevens

    Thanks for your post & wonderful photo.
    I wonder what it says about UK, that apart from holding May Bank holiday Monday after the nearest Monday to the 1st May, the ‘workers’ and their achievements are not celebrated?


  2. Margaret McAlpine

    I saw a grumble in the press that May Day was celebrated here in traditional fashion, but just got no publicity. There was a rally in Trafalgar Square.

    Anyway, it sounds a wonderful occasion in Bulgaria and a celebration worth preserving.

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