Spring and Labour Day in Russia has been known, in the past, by a number of different names and has had various meanings at different points in history. Originally, it was called “Pervomai” and was a continuation of ancient pagan “Spring Day” celebrations. Concerts and fist fights were among the traditional forms of entertainment.
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Modern Labor Day, however, has its roots in the 1886 Chicago workers’ strike that ended in the deaths of six demonstrators and eight police officers. Soon, similar demonstrations were held annually in Paris to commemorate the Chicago events, beginning in 1889. Strikes spread to Warsaw, then under the control of the Russian Empire, in 1890, but it wasn’t until 1917 Labor Day was openly celebrated throughout Russia. As protests intensified against Russia’s involvement and impending defeat in World War I, and as dissatisfaction with the ruling Czars increased, Communist forces rebelled and took over the country. They then declared May 1st International Workers’ Solidarity Day in 1918.
During the Soviet Era, Labor Day was a holiday of huge significance and was accompanied by military parades, labor demonstrations, which were not always voluntary to attend, and slogans such as “Peace! Labor! May!” The main event in Red Square in Moscow was broadcast on television, and the day’s celebrations were symbolic of the whole vision of Soviet Russia and the October Revolution of 1917.
After the collapse of Communism, however, International Worker’s Day (Labor Day) lost its prime place of importance. In 1992, it was renamed “Spring and Labour Day” to reflect the belief of many that the Red Revolution had failed them. Today, most Russians see the holiday as a welcoming of spring weather more than a political statement. There are still some, however, who hold workers’ rallies and demonstrations in major cities.
Since 2013, Russians have had a five-day period off work at the beginning of May, from May 1st through May 5th. Many spend this time at home with friends and family, just relaxing or working on gardening. Some also go on mini-vacations to their privately owned country getaway houses called “dachas.” Picnicking and barbecues are another common way to celebrate the day.
In Russia, Spring and Labour Day is a time for giving fresh flowers, typically lilacs or tulips, to womenfolk, and a time to give out colourful balloons and ice cream to children. It is also the time when the tree branches begin to blossom, hinting that the cold weather is finally at an end. Many Russian artists have incorporated these symbols of Spring and Labour Day into their works, where blossoming branches, springtime flowers, and balloons are often included.
Should you visit Russia on or around May 1st, here are some ideas on what to do:
- On May 1st, attend any of the numerous parades in all the major cities, especially in Moscow. However, it may be best to steer clear of any labor demonstrations.
- On May 2nd, do what many Russians will be doing, which is going on a picnic in public parks. In any town or city, just go to a local municipal park, and you will likely find many Russian families there celebrating and willing to interact.
- If still in the country on May 9th, see the many local parades that celebrate Victory Day. This is a day to remember the victory of the Nazis during World War II and to honour Russian veterans. There will be many events on TV and radio besides in city squares.
Spring and Labour Day in Russia is a celebration of spring and a time of parades and celebrations. Tourists will find there are many enjoyable events to attend.