Can Christians Celebrate May Day?
I pay attention to the traffic to my blog, especially to the search terms that bring people here. The other day, someone came to my post on Earth Day with the search term “can christians celebrate may day.” I’m not sure what the person was looking for: Was it a question of May Day’s Pagan origins, or Godless Communism, anarchic rebellion? Was this visitor looking for this:
Perhaps the Christian that eschews the secular world should be celebrating the Feast of Saints Philip and James the Lesser: after all, catholic tradition has May first as their feast day. But Christians do not live in a vacuum. Acculturation is not something that happened once a long time ago and suddenly stopped. If the concern is that celebrating May Day will lead you into Paganism, Wicca, Pantheism or the like, then consider all of the springtime and fertility rituals that enrich the catholic tradition. They are not hard to find.
At the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday there is the blessing of fire and water. At the blessing of the water, the paschal candle is plunged into the baptismal font in an act clearly related to some long-forgotten fertility ritual. But the (wonderfully sexual) gesture also reminds us of just what baptism is and its relation to the Resurrection of Christ and the seasonal rebirth so evident in Spring. Baptism is a death and a rebirth, a going down into the waters of the Red Sea, the waters of the grave, and coming out resurrected, born anew. The candle being thrust in and out of the font is not the May Pole dance in the Wicker Man, but it is an acculturated tradition, baptized and a part of the Christian tradition. It is rather like the two versions of The Flower Carol:
|Spring has now unwrapped her flowers, day is fast reviving
Life in all her growing powers toward the light is striving
Gone the iron touch of cold, winter time and frost time
Seedlings working through the mold now make up for lost time
Herb and plant that winter long slumbered at their leisure
Through each wonder of fair days God herself expresses
Spring has now unwrapped her flowers, day is fast reviving
Herb and plant that winter long slumbered at their leisure
Earth puts on her dress of glee flowers and grasses hide her
Praise the Maker all you saints, He with glory girds you
The question of leading a Christian life in a secular or political world is another aspect of the question “Can Christians celebrate May Day?” As I mentioned, the traditional catholic calendar has May first as the feast of Sts. Philip and James, but if you look at a contemporary Roman calendar, you’ll see that poor Philip and James have their day on May third. The first of May is Saint Joseph the Worker.
Now I certainly don’t begrudge St. Joseph getting another day in addition to March 19th, but it seems an odd recognition of the Worker’s Holiday by the Roman church, a strange nod, perhaps, to Liberation theologians. One may even accuse me of leaning toward Liberation theology with posts like Jesus: The Working Man’s Hero and my love of the song The Ballad of Jesus Christ, and perhaps I do, but I also have a little problem with what I perceive to be a works righteousness aspect of Liberation Theology. At times, Liberation Theology seems to be lacking in grace, or maybe that’s just what appears to happen when Christianity tries to baptize or acculturate Marxism.
May Day as the Workers Holiday had it’s birth at in the United States, at the Haymarket Riot in 1886. The riot started as a rally in support of an eight hour work day. (Something I think we as a culture may have lost sight of. Do you really need to have your work phone and e-mail on your hip 24 hours a day?) Unfortunately it turned ugly when someone attacked the police with a bomb. The ensuing riot left 11 people dead and many more wounded. Eight Anarchists were convicted of conspiracy in the trials that followed, but none of them were convicted of having actually thrown the bomb that set the whole thing off. The riot and trial were international news, and the date set to be the beginning of the eight hour day was adopted as the International Day of the Worker, May first.
I find it strange that traditions born in the United States are so quickly abandoned in the country of their birth. I can almost understand the abandonment of May Day as Americans have such a hard time with Socialist ideals as they (mistakenly) conflate them with Fascism. It was President Cleveland who gave the United States its Labor Day far enough away from the more popular May Day for fear that celebrating the later would give credence to the burgeoning Communist and Anarchist movements which mark the anniversary of the Haymarket Riot as their international holiday. Why, however, do we no longer celebrate Armistice Day? Where have all the flowers gone? I see them in the countries of the Commonwealth, but not here in their country of origin…but that’s another topic for another post.
Here I’m concerned with whether or not a Christian can celebrate May Day. The Pyramid of the Capitalist System depicts the priest class as the class that lies to you, but what about Liberation Theology? What about Tolstoyan Anarchy?
Leo Tolstoy advocated a way of life modeled after the example of the Apostles in the book of Acts:
32 And the multitude of them that beleeued, were of one heart, and of one soule: Neither said any of them, that ought of the things which he possessed, was his owne, but they had all things common. 33 And with great power gaue the Apostles witnesse of the resurrection of the Lord Iesus, and great grace was vpon them all. 34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: For as many as were possessors of lands, or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were solde, 35 And laide them downe at the Apostles feete: And distribution was made vnto euery man according as hee had neede.
This is not Totalitarianism. This is not Fascism. When a Christian baptizes that which is Pagan, or even Atheist, that Pagan, that Atheist thing dies and is reborn. Being your brother’s keeper, being a steward of the earth, turning the other cheek is leading a Christ-centered life. This is putting Jesus first, and being led by the Holy Ghost.
So, Can a Christian celebrate May Day?