May day

May day has multiple meanings here in Germany where I am visiting. There is the traditional meaning of the celebration of Spring (whence “around the may pole”). It is also the time of the beer fest, which is a kind of cousin to Ockoberfest, with the key and all-important difference that in this festival everyone drinks too much beer in May, as opposed to drinking too much beer in October — a very important distinction indeed.

In addition, May first is the day they celebrate worker’s rights throughout Europe. We don’t have this kind of thing in the U.S. Where I come from the idea that one should celebrate the solidarity of common working men and women, those ordinary citizens who put in a day’s work for a day’s pay, would be seen as a form of Communism. To view the people who sweat day in and day out to make a country function as heroic figures would, in America, be pretty much tantamount to hoisting a red flag and handing over the keys of the country to Josef Stalin. As Sarah Palin would say, “You betcha.”

In the U.S. we’ve always had a problematic relationship with unions, with collective bargaining, with the whole idea that workers should have the right to organize and look out for each other, and that companies might consequently benefit from a situation in which their employees feel that they are all protected by a uniform code of justice. In America that’s considered Commie talk. But this side of the Atlantic it seems to be perfectly normal. On May day, all the politicians here, of every political stripe, make speeches declaring their fervent and undying belief in the humble Worker. It’s actually rather sweet.

Yet more than any of this, I learned that May day has yet another meaning here in Stuttgart, one that is higher, more exalted, more fervently worshiped and followed than all of these other meanings. It is the thing that can get huge throngs of people out in the streets, to worship something that really matters, to forget their daily troubles and put aside this sacred day for something truly important.

I’m speaking, of course, of the May 1 as the day when the local regional team here in Stuttgart plays its opponent in soccer.

2 thoughts on “May day”

  1. “they celebrate worker’s rights throughout Europe. We don’t have this kind of thing in the U.S.”

    Interesting enough, the worker’s rights version of May 1st celebration is a US import. Its easy to forget that worker’s rights has a long, often bloody history… in the United States. On MayDay in 1886, 200,000 workers walked off their jobs to win the 8-hour day.

    Look forward to seeing you in Stuttgart!

  2. Yes, I’ve written about that in previous years. My post was meant to be ironic. I thought the mention of Sarah Palin would be the tip off, but perhaps I was being too subtle.

    Americans celebrate Labor Day not in May, but in September, precisely because our government wished to erase the historical memory of May 1, 1886. The political left was seen as dangerous, so their natural celebratory holiday was “disappeared”. It is indeed ironic that many other places in the world continue to celebrate a event that originated in the bold initiative of American workers — an event now forgotten in the U.S. itself.

    The Labor Day that remains today in the U.S. is a curiously toothless affair. People get a three day weekend in early September, but nobody quite knows why. Echoes of the successful erasure of collective historical memory.

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