Germany's May Day: a time when ancient traditions coincide with political movements. But the start of May is not only known for its demonstrations; old German traditions of pagan origin are still practiced in many regions of the country, starting with Walpurgis Night on April 30 - a springtime festival that involves bonfires and dancing.
The first of May, the German Labor day was originally designated for the workers. Labor problems were brought to the public by means of parades and speeches. This has today become more of a family holiday, where people go on outings in the country, with children gathering fists full of Lilies of thc Valley and making stops at local inns. The originally solemn climate of this day has all but been eliminated.
What do people do?
Many people in Germany observe the night between April 30 and May 1 as Wafpurgisnacht / Hexennacht (Witches or Walpurgis Night). People in some areas light bonfires and spend the evening and night outside. Young people may play pranks, such as moving their neighbors' garden furniture or ornaments to other properties. Maypoles are also prepared for the following morning, known as May Day. Young men in Rhineland may put a branch wrapped in colorful ribbons in the garden of a girl he would like to marry. Young women place these branches in the gardens of young men during leap years.
On May 1, some people organize or attend marches or rallies to campaign for or celebrate workers' rights in Germany or abroad. These events may be tied with campaigns from other European countries. The largest march occurs in Berlin-Kreuzberg, an area of Berlin, and attracts many political activists.
Other people spend some time outdoors enjoying the spring weather on May Day. If this holiday falls close to Ascension Day or the Pentecost weekend, many people take a portion of their annual leave and go on a short vacation in Germany or a neighboring country.
May 1 is a public holiday and post offices, banks and many businesses are closed. Nearly all stores are closed, although they may be open in tourist areas. However, bakeries, petrol stations and stores at railway stations, airports and along highways are often open. Public transport services may run a normal, reduced or no service depending on where one lives or wants to travel. Traffic may be disrupted in town centers where large parades are held.
Traditionally, people believed that witches held Walpurgis Night celebrations on the summit of the Blocksberg, a mountain in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, on the night between April 30 and May 1. People believed that it was dangerous to be outside on this night so they lit fires and danced wildly to deter the witches from coming too close to them or their homes. These traditions lead to the custom of lighting fires and erecting maypoles still seen today.
May Day (or Labor Day) celebrations and similar observances on workers' rights are worldwide.
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