Labour Day 2018 and 2019
Labour Day is known in Greece as “Ergatiki Protomagia,” meaning “May First of the Workers”.
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May 1st is also known as May Day and International Workers’ Day, and there are often workers’ rallies and strikes that take place on this day. However, there are also many festive events, some of which go back many centuries to ancient times.
Labour Day began as a commemoration of the Haymarket riot in Chicago, USA, which occurred on May 4th, and it was early promoted by socialist, communist, and anarchist groups as a time to fight for the rights of the working class. However, today, most people in Greece and elsewhere do not associate it with this background, though many do see it as a time to celebrate the contributions workers of every industry make to society and to petition for better wages and working conditions.
In Europe, the May 1st date of Labour Day is based on the ancient tradition of May Day. The month of May was named for the Roman goddess “Maia,” who corresponded to the Greek goddess “Demeter.” Demeter was thought to have power over agriculture, and her daughter, Persephone, was thought to bring warm weather in her wake when she returned every May from wintering in Hades. To this day, the Anthesteria (“flower”) festival, parades, and various cultural events throughout Greece point back to these ancient traditions.
Many Greeks celebrate Labour Day by forming or buying a wreath of flowers and hanging it on their doors, walls, balconies, or elsewhere as a decoration. After festivities end, they let the flowers dry out and keep them till Saint John the Harvester’s Day on June 24th, at which time they are burned.
Labour Day is also simply an opportunity for families to get out and enjoy the spring weather and have a short vacation.
Tourists will find that many businesses are closed on May 1st and that public transport runs on an altered schedule. However, many restaurants are still open, at least for dinner, and the warm weather and relatively low crowd levels make Labour Day a good time to tour Greece.
Three of the many Labour Day cultural events across Greece that the tourist may be interested in are:
- Attend the flower festival in Heraklion, Crete, which has one of the oldest and most famous flower shows in all of Greece. Flowers will be in peak bloom both there and throughout Greece, and flower shows will give you a chance to see a full array of Greek flowers in one location.
- In many places, “fire jumping” is a Labour Day tradition. Women only gather after sunset and dance around bonfires in large groups. They sing traditional folk songs about spring and then jump over the fires “to keep winter and diseases away” for as long as possible. Some put water on their hair and clothing before making the leap “just for good luck.”
- On the island of Corfu, people in many villages celebrate Labour Day by walking about with a “mayoxilo.” A mayoxilo is a trunk of a cypress tree that is wrapped in green branches and yellow daisies. Men dressed in white and red carry it around the streets, while singing “songs of May.”
Labour Day is celebrated in Greece with great enthusiasm, despite its ancient and modern ideological roots not being held to much anymore. It has become simply a day to celebrate workers and the beautiful spring weather.