Inside the Capitol

Friday, April 26, 2013

5-1 May Day

50113 May Day

SANTA FE – May 1 has to be the most unusual day of the year for celebrations. It has more reasons for celebrating than does any other day but almost no one, especially in America, pays much attention.
It all started in pre—Christian Europe when pagans celebrated the beginning of spring, the arrival of flowers and the planting of crops. The winding of maypoles goes back to this time. They considered the poles as phallic symbols bringing fertility to the land and its people.
Eventually this evolved into the giving of May baskets filled with spring flowers and sweets. The routine was that a basket would be placed on a girl's front doorstep. The boy would then knock on the door and then run in order to avoid being detected. If he was caught, the girl got to plant a big kiss on him.
This practice continued into the 20th century. My mother had me playing the game, although minus the kissing part. My wife Jeanette says she would accompany her mother to nursing homes where Jeanette would hand out May baskets.
This all seemed to end around the middle of the 20th century. The reason was competition from other events focusing on May 1. In the 1880s factory workers throughout the world began protesting unsafe working conditions and 16-hour days. They chose May 1 as International Worker's Day.
The day's observance often was marked by demonstrations and violence. In many American communities, a much tamer version of honoring labor began to appear. That celebration was held on May 1 and was called Labor Day. Congress made it an official national holiday from work. Since then, Congress changed the date to the first Monday in September.
As the Cold War began in the late 1940s, the Soviet Union chose May 1 to show off its military might and take advantage of worker demonstrations around the world. The growing power of American unions caused Congress to decide it had to give unions some official recognition. Considering the Russian takeover of May Day, it wasn't difficult for Congress to decide on the September 1 Labor Day holiday.
When President Dwight Eisenhower took office in 1953, he decided that America should do something to distract attention from the Soviet Union's display of military might, so he created Law Day. Congress later wrote it in law. The stated purpose is to proclaim that we are a nation of laws that doesn't rely on military might.
Some bar associations hold banquets on May 1. Some school districts in New Mexico and around the nation hold assemblies featuring lawyers and judges lecturing on the law. In Albuquerque, the Turner Branch Law Firm has done much to publicize Law Day, including a two-page spread in the Albuquerque Journal a few years ago reprinting the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
This is the same Turner Branch who bought the naming rights to the University of New Mexico football stadium, now called Branch Field.
In 1958, President Eisenhower realized that some American communities celebrated what they call Loyalty Day. It is a time to celebrate our loyalty to our country. So the president officially recognized the day and Congress quickly made it a law.
Loyalty Day is celebrated even less than Law Day. Both were good tries by President Eisenhower, who was trying to blunt the Soviet Union's influence on the rest of the world. Forty years later, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics fell apart. But it wasn't because of Law Day or Loyalty Day.
International Workers Day still is celebrated in most industrialized countries on May 1 but not with the fervor of old. Working conditions and pay are much better in nearly every country of the free world. In 2009, Immigrant groups across the country used the day to push for changes in U.S. immigration policy. So far, that hasn't shown much success. No wonder MayDay also is a distress signal.


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