May 1 celebrations in Russia

Millions of workers attended May 1 demonstrations all over the country. Source: RIA Novosti

Millions of workers attended May 1 demonstrations all over the country. Source: RIA Novosti

The May Day demonstration was a very enjoyable event for Soviet children, who would start getting ready for it a few weeks in advance. We had to make paper flowers and stick it to the twigs so they would look like apple tree blossoms.

The May holidays in Russia, which have always been celebrated with a lot of pride and passion, start with May 1, International Labour Day.  The country first celebrated Labour Day way back in 1890, decades before the formation of the Soviet Union. Initially it was called ‘Day of International Solidarity of the Labour Class.’ In 1997, the name was changed to ‘Labour and Spring Day.’ It has always being a symbol of revolution and the never-ending fight between rich and poor classes.

From 1917, May 1 demonstrations were always influenced by the Communist Party. Millions of workers would attend demonstrations all over the country. They would carry various slogans, such as “All power to the Soviets” and “All power to the labour class.” Ironically, the mostly political gatherings slowly lost their political colour.

For us, Soviet children, the run up to May 1 was always a very happy time for several reasons. There was a great anticipation of the time off from school. Usually we had 2 days off and after a weak another holiday would come - May 9th - World War 2 Victory Day.

The May Day demonstration was a very enjoyable event to attend and we would start getting ready few weeks in advance. We had to make paper flowers and stick it to the twigs so they would look like apple tree blossoms. We had to take out balloons from cupboards. We had to make red paper flags to bring to the demonstration. Everybody was happy and the children danced, waved flags and balloons. The festivities were full of positive energy. Now those days are gone and are a part of history like the Soviet Union itself. The celebratory aspects are gone for today’s children, though they are still excited about the holidays and spring. 

Nowadays, Labour Day is also celebrated in India but I don’t think anybody gives enough importance to this holiday. Someone I know here cracked a joke that on Labour Day people should work the hardest and not have the day off. One of my Russian friends commented that in Russia before people have a day off, they work hard contributing to society by cleaning the streets. That was called ‘Subbotnik’ meaning something that is done on Saturday. This tradition came from Soviet Collectivism. Everybody would receive a notice about what time to come for Subbotnik. There would be organisers who would allocate areas to people. We would come prepared: wearing old cloths, gloves, bringing brooms and shovels. It was collective effort to contribute to society; everybody contributed and the experience was satisfying. I think India could definitely benefit from this practice. Maybe then more Indians would value International Labour Day. 

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