May Day: May 1st
The first of May in Greece, or “Protomaya,” as in many European countries is equivalent to our Labor Day in the States. It is both a celebration of spring as well as labor. The holiday probably goes back to a spring celebration honoring Demeter and Persephone as it signaled the official return of the Kore to her mother Demeter. It is a day where life is celebrated al fresco in the beauty of blooming nature. It is a celebration of the final victory of spring over winter, of life over death, and has ancient roots. The day coincides with the Anthestiria, festivals that honor the god Dionysus, the party animal and god of drama, as well as all animate beings, including souls of the dead, flowers and plants. It is a celebration of resurrection and rebirth both physically and psychically.
As it is the International Day of the Worker, many unions and worker’s groups actively demonstrate by holding rallies, marches, and of course, the ever-popular “apergia” or strike. Transportation usually stops.
Don’t bother doing any business today. The local Greek consulate and embassy is closed.
Since May Day corresponds with the peak of the flower season, flower shows and festivals are common. It is commonly referred to the “Festival of Flowers.” The ancient Minoans are believed to have celebrated one of their two “New Year” celebrations about this time – the other was in October.
Families celebrate the day with a day off and journeying to the country side in full spring splendor to enjoy a picnic or a bar-b-que with loved ones. They commemorate May Day by collecting flowers and making them into wreaths which they then hang outside on doorways, balconies, chapels almost everywhere. Walking through the narrow streets of the Aegean islands, one is overwhelmed by the fireworks of red, yellows, orange blossoms exploding from under window sills and doors. The wreaths are kept until June 24th, the day of Saint John, when they are burned in bonfires while Greeks take turns jumping over them.
While I only spent the first 5 years of life in Greece, the images of the rolling countryside with verdant hills and wild flowers has been inscribed in my soul and will stay with me forever. To this day, I stop in my tracks when I see a paparouna, or red poppy, as I vividly remember stopping at the side of the road to pick them in a bunch while a little girl.
While here in the States, it might be business as usual, don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers in your own way today May 1st. Happy May Day!
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