May 1st is an important day around the world. While each country calls the holiday by a different name and celebrates in different ways, it is largely seen as an occasion to honor the social and economic achievements of the international labor movement.
It was in Chicago in 1886 that several labor unions held strikes, demanding an eight hour work day. Riots ensued and May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, was recognized each year with demonstrations by various groups. In Russia, May Day was celebrated illegally with workers holding protests for better work conditions and higher wages. After the February Revolution in 1917, May 1st became known as the Day of the International Solidarity of Workers. While some boycotted the parades and demonstrations, many others participated in what became an important official holiday of the Soviet Union.
In 1992, the Russian Parliament renamed the holiday as Spring and Labor Day. Less people protested and more were enjoying the warmer weather and spending time with family and friends. Picnics and barbeques became popular activities and many people just enjoyed the day off from work. Since this year’s May Day falls on a Saturday, the public holiday will be observed on Monday, with most banks, public buildings, and educational institutions closed.
Today, millions of Russians march in parades all over the country, especially in Red Square. The past several years have seen record numbers of demonstrators conducting rallies due to the global economic crisis. Some Russians prefer to use the holiday to relax. Men give Russian girls spring flowers, especially tulips and liliacs, and parents buy children balloons and ice cream to celebrate the end of the winter season.