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This May bank holiday, many of us enjoyed record breaking temperatures and some beautifully sunny weather.

In fact, some people consider May Day to be the first day of summer.

It has its roots in pagan festivals and ancient celebrations of spring, but the UK isn’t alone in holding festivities on the first day of the month.

May 1 is celebrated in many countries across the world, for a number of different reasons. From pickled herring to snakes and lizards – here’s a selection of our favourite May Day facts. Some of them may surprise you!

The history of May Day in the UK

May Day dates back thousands of years. The Romans celebrated the Festival of Flora at this time of year: a weeklong festival to honour Flora, the goddess of youth, spring, and flowers.

In the UK, this festival collided with the Celtic festival of Beltane, which was held halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Over the years, elements of the two combined to create what we know as May Day today.

May Day during the Civil War

Dancing around the maypole is a one of the most recognisable May Day traditions, but did you know that Parliament outlawed maypoles during the Civil War? Oliver Cromwell passed legislation banning maypoles when he took control of the country, and May Day itself wasn’t officially celebrated until the restoration of Charles II.


In Hawaii, May 1 marks Lei Day. The first Lei Day was held on 1 May 1928 and has now become an annual holiday, celebrating the tradition of making and wearing lei, or floral wreaths. Live music, hula performances, and lei making demonstrations take place across the islands.


Like many other European countries, May 1 is Labour Day in Finland. However, the first day of May is also ‘Vappu’, a celebration of the end of the long winter.

Finns celebrate the coming of spring with two days of carnivals and picnics, and many attend a traditional May Day lunch. The meal typically features Finish dishes such as pickled herring and May Day fritters (which are similar to funnel cakes).


In Bulgaria, May 1 is ‘Irminden’. It’s a day tied to the protection of people from snakes and lizards. To protect themselves while working in the fields, Bulgarians light fires and make noises to scare away any lurking reptiles.

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