The Many Faces of May Day

By April 29, 2016Outreach and Events

*Radio static*

“Mayday, Mayday!”


Ever wonder what this wacky phrase means? Interestingly, this word is an international distress signal used by aircraft and ships to indicate that they need immediate assistance. It was modified from the French phrase “m’aider,” which translates to “help me” in English. Even though this word is used in what would likely be a high-stress scenario, it has also been adapted into colloquial (everyday) language, mostly used in a rhetorical or sarcastic sense. For example: “Mayday! Mayday! My latte just spilled on my keyboard!” 🙁

Setting my sticky keys aside, this exclamation is not the only type of mayday out there. In fact, according to Shmuel Ross of the infoplease database, “May 1, often called May Day, just might have more holidays than any other day of the year. It’s a celebration of spring. It’s a day of political protests. It’s a neopagan festival, a saint’s feast day, and a day for organized labor. In many countries, it is a national holiday.” Across the Northern Hemisphere, many countries give the majority of their labor force the day off as thanks and recognition of their hard work.

But this holiday is not just a one-day vacay for blue-collar folks. Many people use this date as an avenue of protest in support of or in opposition to issues that are relevant to the working class. For example, in recent years, many of these protests have been concerned with the negative effects of globalization, which can be defined as “the process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas and other aspects of culture” (thanks, Wikipedia)!

In fact, May Day protests were reignited in the United States in 2006 in response to discriminatory immigration laws. And guess what! The International Workers Day (the labor-focused holiday that falls on May 1) originated in our own great city of Chicago during the year 1886, when, according to historian Eric Chase, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States went on strike in order to reform labor laws and give workers the right to eight-hour workdays. During this time, Socialism seemed to many people an advantageous ideology, and this movement was just one of many efforts to come closer to the ideas of universal equality that it embodies.

Bet you guys didn’t know all these intriguing facts about mayday/May Day(s)! Sadly, we don’t get May 1 off in the United States because we have our own designated Labor Day in September. But don’t forget to take a moment to welcome spring back to our fair city on May 1!

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Anonymous says:

    Do I get extra points if I can ID the GIF at the start? ‘Cause I can (it’s Key Largo). Just sayin’