In pre-Christian period, May 1st was a major celebration for the people of old Europe. Different nations celebrated the beginning of the summer, the idea of rebirth of nature, not infrequently marked by drink, dance and fun. Many ancient customs associated with May Day come from the old Roman festival of flowers (the worship of Flora, the Goddess of flowers). These include gathering branches and flowers, choosing or crowning a May Queen and dancing around a bush, tree or decorated pole (the May Pole). Also, the Druids of the British Isles celebrated Beltane – “the return of the sun” and the Germans celebrated Walpurgis Night – “the arrival of spring” on May 1st.
Another important symbol of the May Day is the maypole. The bringing in of the Maypole from the woods was a great occasion and was accompanied by much rejoicing and merrymaking. People danced around them in celebration of the end of winter and the start of the fine weather that would allow planting to begin. The tradition of Maypole is one of the few that has survived the ages and even though it may have taken different names or customs, trees have always been the symbol of the great vitality and fertility of nature.
This Maypole also remind us of the persecution of Jesus, when Irod gave the order to kill all infants and used to hang a green branch at the entrance of the house to follow the next day. Yet when the next day started, there were green branches at all houses and Irod did not know where to look for Jesus anymore.
With the spread of Christianity, the tradition of May 1st is gradually abandoned.
Romania is one of the countries that still follow the Maypole tradition under the name of “Armindenul”, translated as a tree or a green branch hanged by the doors and windows on the 1st of May. On this day, we celebrate the fruit of the earth, the hail that shall not fall, against all pests and for the health of all farm animals. Also called “Wormwood Day” or “Day of Drunkards”, Romanians celebrate by spending time in nature while eating lamb, cheese and drinking red wine with wormwood.
Following the traditional customs, locals start the morning washing with dew, symbolizing health. They hang at the entrances green branches for good luck and wealth. It is said that a tree or an offshoot are brought from the forest one day early so that, on the 1st of May, to be held in front of the house until the Reaping, when they are thrown in the fire while baking bread. Originating from the pagan festivals, the branches are also hung at the animal shelters in order to keep them protected from all evil forces. In Banat area, the branches are hung in front of houses of hardworking man and eligible girls. Boys carry the task during the night, without being seen, while fathers look for the boys the next day and offer them a drink.
Throughout the years, many traditions have been lost or changed. At the beginning of the XXI century, because of socio-political significance, the day becomes World Workers Day (or labor). Over 80 countries have declared May 1 as a national holiday and you can read more about it in our following article!