Sir: Michael Foot's valiant vindication of the May Day holiday unfortunately includes a high ratio of fantasy to fact ("Long live our beloved May Day; Another View, 2 May).
There is no connection between the pagan festival of May Day and the Christian festival of Whitsuntide (the Germanic version of Pentecost), or between either of them and the Anglo-Saxon witenagemot (despite Coleridge's fertile imagination). And there is little connection between any of these and the socialist May Day.
This was decided in 1889 by the International Socialist Congress in Paris, in memory of the anarchist martyrs in the American campaign for the eight- hour day which came to a climax in May 1886. It was originally universally celebrated on 1 May 1890, but the British labour movement soon moved it to the nearest Sunday; the last Labour government moved it on to the nearest Monday, and no doubt the next Labour government will move it still further away. But May Day remains at the same time the separate festivals of innocent springtime and of revolutionary socialism.
Freedom Press and
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