Sunday, April 29, 2012

One Date Multiple Holidays

Lilly of the Valley
In San Francisco earlier this week I met with a woman wearing a crown of fresh flowers.  An unusual sight in an office.  Once I moved past the surprise it brought back memories of grammar school celebrations of May Day, May 1.  Baskets of flowers left on doorsteps as gifts, crowns of flowers worn by little girls, dances around the “Maypole” draped in ribbons. 

Curiosity led me to do a little research about this May holiday.  It turns out that the first of May has been a time of celebration dating back to pagan times.  It’s a holiday first associated with spring, the end of winter, new seasons, growth and fertility.  The tradition of flowers given as gifts today can be traced to pre Christian times when the celebration was to honor Flora, the Roman Goddess of Flowers.

But May Day is no longer a holiday with a singular focus.  Rather than just flowers and spring, the contemporary celebrations focus on workers and labor unions.  May 1 is called Labor Day in many of the 80 countries where it is a national holiday.  But that isn’t the only title.  In Russia the holiday is officially titled a Day of Spring and Labor. In 1958 the President of the United States declared it Law Day and Loyalty Day.  It’s also continues as a religious holiday.  Today its the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker.

Celebrations vary too.  In France it’s customary to give bouquets of flowers, preferably Lilly of the Valley.  In Rome there’s a May 1 concert that draws over 300,000 people annually.    In many countries there are parades that may include the military or workers representing trade unions.

As business travelers its valuable to know about the background of the holidays to better connect with the people we’ll meet.  And because this is one of the largest bank holidays in the world its important to note that date before scheduling travel.

Before you go know what form the celebration takes at your destination.  Parades that block streets, businesses closed for a day or more, museums closed or open?  In 2012 May 1 falls on a Tuesday.  Where will be and what will be happening?

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