Romanian Traditions on May 1st – Labor Day

The meanings of May 1st can be interpreted differently, depending from where they are looked at. While some celebrate the arrival of the sun and summer, the rebirth of the nature and ancient traditions, some are reminded of the riots and protests that created the International Workers Day.

By the first half of the 19th century, the average American was working 12h per day- 7 days per week, in extremely poor conditions, insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks. But in 1872 around one hundred thousand workers covered the streets of New York to protest against the poor conditions and demanding the working day to be reduced to 8 hours. The Haymarket Riot of 1886 was only one of the many events that turned violent and cause the death of both workers and policemen. And in the memory of the victims in Chicago, the 1st of May was declared the International Labor Day in 1889.

bucharest surroundings tour

In Romania, this day was celebrated for the first time by the socialistic movement in 1890. Initially, there were only few people who would understand the meaning of the “Workers Solidary Day” (ro.  Ziua Solidaritatii Oamenilor Muncii), therefore they would organize small gatherings rather that big events. For the next 55 years, under the reign of Carol I and Ferdinand, the 1st of May was a day for fairgrounds, when people would spend the free time outdoors, rejoicing the rebirth of nature and return of the sun.

During the communist regime, the authorities would organize large-state parades on the main boulevards of the biggest cities. In Bucharest, the capital of the country, all workers would get the day off, 1st of May being an international holiday, yet they were all obliged to participate at the manifestation. May Day became the celebration of the communist party, while people had to praise the ruler with applause, cheering and rhyming shouts, holding boards
with eulogies towards Nicolae Ceausescu. They would organize themed dances and various artistic events, all on the background of traditional and patriotic songs. Preparations were made in advance, with numerous rehearsals and hours of standing in the sun so that the workers would march, all wearing their uniforms, in the name of the Romanian people and its leader.

Starting 1989, after the execution of Ceausescu and the fall of the communist era, the 1st of May started to lose its meaning and traditions of the past years. Nowadays, Romanians see this holiday as a free day to enjoy the beginning of summer, the first sea bathing of the year, the chance to take a longer vacation or simply organize a picnic or barbeque in a green space. The diversity of Bucharest gives a lot of choices on how to celebrate May Day, yet the city transforms into a quiet and peaceful place once the highway to the sea side is opened. 1st of May starts the summer season and music festivals are organized every year on the Black Sea shores.

Tips: It’s a great time to take a Bucharest walking tour to take advantage of the peacefulness of the old streets; if you want to party, the Mamaia Resort is the perfect destination, especially for the Sunwaves Festival. Or if you would simply want to enjoy the day, we recommend the Palaces Tour to discover Bucharest’s surroundings.

sunwaves festival mamaia

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