Today is May Day. An ancient point of the Gaelic calendar marking spring, it was long marked by pagan fertility celebrations and rites, dancing around May poles and the like, with many variations on this in different countries. The day became associated with the worker’s movement in 1886 when in Chicago a movement for the 8-hour work day involved many demonstrations and strikes and ultimately a riot in Haymarket Square in Chicago that culminated in a bombing and a massacre (with both police and workers killed), followed by trials and executions of various anarchists and activists. The actual date if the massacre was on May 4, but May1 became associated with the event, and it spread to become the leading International Worker’s Day, despite competition from rivals such as Labor Day in September in the US. Ironically both of them were started by socialists and in the US, but somehow in the US Labor Day came to be favored by more conservative interests and was made the legal holiday, with May Day the day celebrated by socialists in other parts of the world.
In the former Soviet Union May Day was one of the major holidays of the year, one of three on which there were major parades and activities in Red Square in Moscow during the period of rule by the Communist Party, the others being November 7 to celebrate the Great October Socialist Revolution (it was October 25 in the old Julian calendar, still followed by the Russian Orthodox Church), and May 9, Victory Day in memory of the victory of Germany in World War II. Of course, Victory Day, following over a week of vacations following May 1, featured parading displays of military people and equipment, which also would show up, along with lots of party officials on November 7. However, perhaps recalling its old pagan celebratory past, the May Day celebrations in Red Square features athletes and youth groups. It was an uplifting celebration, more of a party.
Well, since the end of the Soviet Union things have changed. Victory Day continues to be celebrated, with indeed Vladimir Putin playing it up in recent years, making a bigger and bigger deal of it in his appeal to a militaristic nationalism, with ever larger military parades. As for November 7, in 2005 it was removed as a holiday, but November 4 was recognized as Unity Day, which has sort of replaced November 7, although without Red Square celebrations. It was in fact a pre-Soviet holiday that celebrated a victory of the Poles and Lithuanians in 1612.
But May Day was also dropped as a holiday, although people still basically take off work from it until the still hugely celebrated May 9 Victory Day. This year, Sunday May 2 happens to be the Russian Orthodox Easter, given by the still followed Julian calendar. And also this year Putin has been making a big deal about it, getting lots of publicity for going to church and hanging around with its leaders, presumably to distract people from the uprisings and opposition to his rule that have been happening. But the old May Day is gone in Russia, only quietly noticed by the remnant Communist Party..