May holidays means celebrations in honor of everything from workers to mom. And, although one of them tends to overshadow the other, there are also two different holidays in May dedicated to those who gave their lives to protecting American workers, mothers and, indeed, the very idea of the country itself.
May Day: May 1.
Around the world the first day of May is celebrated in different ways. For many countries it is known International Workers Day, a holiday to observe the importance of the daily laborer. In the Soviet Union and other communist countries, as well as many non-communist country, May Day was the equivalent of Labor Day in the United States. In recent years May Day has become a rallying point for opponents of economic globalization.
Elsewhere, May Day is a vestige of a pagan New Year’s festival combined with Roman feasting celebration. In America, the celebration used to be highlighted mainly by activities performed by children culminating in the Maypole activity that actually was related to ancient fertility rituals. For this reason, it was discouraged by the Puritans who settled America. As a result, May Day activities still mainly influenced by the pagan rites were virtually unknown in the early settlements of America. While often a huge holiday in other countries, May Day is now all but overlooked in America.
Cinco de Mayo: May 5
The most common misconception about Cinco de Mayo is that it is one of those holiday celebrations of national independence like Bastille Day or the 4th of July. In fact, Cinco de Mayo commemorates a specific victory by the Mexican army at the battle of Puebla; a victory not over America, but the French. Cinco de Mayo is mainly a regional holiday in Mexico and it is not even a nationally recognized legal holiday. In fact, this May holiday is celebrated to a greater extent outside Mexico than inside; mariachi bands, parades, dancing, and festivals are far more present on May 5 north of the border than south.
Mother’s Day: Second Sunday in May.
Very few holidays can be traced to a single founder. Mother’s Day was a gift almost single-handedly given to America by a woman named Anna Jarvis whose tremendous grief following the death of her own mother led her on a crusade to create a nationwide day of celebration for everything for that mothers do, usually with little or no recognition and certainly without monetary recompense equitable to the labor involved. After an initial failure for a Mother’s Day resolution to pass in Congress, Jarvis began a juggernaut campaign that finally resulted in perhaps the most famous May holiday of them all being officially sanctioned by a proclamation signed by Pres. Woodrow Wilson in 1914.
Unfortunately, Mother’s Day has become the poster holiday for what has come to be known pejoratively as a Hallmark Card holiday. While it is true that too many holidays that came in the wake of Mother’s Day seem to exist merely to sell cards, or candy, or gifts, the origins of Mother’s Day is one of purity and good intentions. Anna Jarvis did not work for a card company or candy factory; she fought too long and hard to make a facile joke of her efforts.
Armed Forces Day: Third Saturday in May.
Not to be confused with either Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day, Armed Forces Day is holiday to commemorate those presently serving in the any of the branches of the armed services. Each branch used to celebrate its own individual holiday, but consolidation into one national day of recognition took place in 1949. Armed Forces Day is typically celebrated mostly on bases and in military towns, and these celebrations include parades, air shows and honor ceremonies.
Memorial Day: Last Monday in May
Formerly known as Decoration Day, the last Monday in May loses a bit of that day’s natural dread as it is now a national day off from work for many in the United States. The final holiday in May is set aside to remember those who have died in service to the country. Originally established specifically to commemorate Union soldiers who died during the Civil War, an expansion took place following World War I to include any American who was a casualty of military intervention.
Until recent decades, Memorial Day was a solemn holiday given over to celebrations of the memory of those who have died in military service to their country. Nearly every town in America held parades and somber observances at their local military cemeteries. Flags waved from the front porches of houses as well as being flown at half-staff at banks and government offices. Like Independence Day, Memorial Day is now seen by many as just another summery holiday given to honoring grilling out and getting a day off from work.