Happy May, Ahem, Loyalty Day!

A local May Day parade in Bavaria on Sunday

By Christian Stampfer on 1 May 2017
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May 1 is a public holiday in many countries and is typically referred to as May Day. It harkens back to an ancient spring festival celebrated with dance, singing, and, of course, the maypole. It also coincides in some countries with a holiday intended to honor their workers.

Countries that celebrate the holiday in some fashion include Austria, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Holland, and Sweden.

May Day is preceded by Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht in German and Dutch), the eve of the feast day of Saint Walpurga and, in folklore, the night of a witches’ meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains in Germany. In many places, large bonfires are built on the hilltops to ward off the witches.

Goethe’s Die Erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night) tells of the attempts of the Druids in the Harz Mountains to practice their pagan rituals, something forbidden by the occupying Christians. They masquerade as the Devil and demons, scaring the Christians away, leaving the celebration to continue.

What you probably didn’t know is that May 1 in the United States is Loyalty Day, a holiday first established in 1921 as a response to the First Red Scare, when then Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer led a campaign to arrest, imprison, and deport thousands of allegedly subversive types following several years of labor unrest and anarchist bombings.

An act of Congress made it a legal holiday in 1958 for “the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom” and it has been recognized by every sitting president since.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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