What is May Day? Meaning, when is it in 2022, bank holiday date, and and traditions and celebrations explained

Maypole dancing is a traditional May day activity.Maypole dancing is a traditional May day activity.
Maypole dancing is a traditional May day activity.
The celebration of May Day means there is always a three-day weekend at the start of May

The celebration of May Day dates back to ancient time, but today we still benefit from a bank holiday every year at the start of the month.

So what day is May day this year, when is the bank holiday, and how is it celebrated?

Here’s what you need to know.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

When is May Day?

May Day takes place on Sunday 1 May, although the celebration takes place over the course of the bank holiday weekend.

The bank holiday takes place on Monday 2 May.

Why do we celebrate May Day?

Celebrating May Day dates back to ancient times when Romans celebrated the festival of Flora, the goddess of flowers and spring.

In Britain, people celebrated the festival of Beltane on 1 May to mark the halfway point between spring and summer.

In modern times, the bank holiday gives people a chance to relax with family and friends and attend events to celebrate the approaching summer season.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

May Day is also Workers’ Day or International Workers’ Day in the US and UK, and commemorates the historic struggles and gains made by workers and the labour movement.

The connection between May Day and workers’ rights began in the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution when thousands of men, women and children in America were dying every year from poor working conditions and long hours.

The Federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions, which later became the American Federation of Labour, wanted to end this and decided that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labour from and after May 1, 1886.”

How do we celebrate May day?

In the UK, we have a few traditions on May day, which symbolise new life and fertility and have been practised for centuries.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Customs, which happen at events up and down the country, include the crowning of a May Queen or King and Maypole dancing. These customs still happen today.

During maypole dancing people often circle a pole with ribbons, and during their dance the ribbons become intertwined and wrapped around the pole to make an eye-catching design.

When this tradition began around 2,000 years ago, people most likely did maypole dancing freestyle, but today organised maypole dances are choreographed and practised weeks in advance to ensure the ribbons do not become tangled and the pole looks appealing at the end of the dance.

There are also plenty of unrehearsed maypole dances which take place too, often performed by pupils in schools.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Historically, Morris dancing has been linked to May Day celebrations too. Morris dancing dates back at least 600 years although it is unclear where the dance style came from, or what it represents. It has long been associated with May day.

Dressing up in unusual costumes is also a May Day tradition for some, and one of the most popular costumes is Jack in the Green.

The character wears foliage-covered clothing and is widely believed to represent the Green Man, who was a symbol of fertility in the 18th century.

When is the early May Bank Holiday 2022?

The first May bank holiday always takes place on the first Monday of the month.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In 2022, the early May Bank Holiday will fall on Monday 2 May.

This means we will get a three-day weekend, running from Saturday 30 April until Monday 2  May.

When is the next bank holiday in 2022?

Usually, we get both an early and a late May bank holiday.

The second May bank holiday usually takes place on the last Monday of the month.

However this year, as part of the celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the second May bank holiday will be moved by almost a week, to Thursday 2 June.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

To celebrate the 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II, in 2022 we will get a four-day bank holiday weekend from Thursday 2 June to Sunday 5 June.

Friday 3 June is an additional bank holiday created specifically to celebrate the Jubilee.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.