PROTOMAYA | THE MAY WREATHS

Culture, Mediterranean lifestyle

THE FIRST DAY OF MAY IN GREECE

The first day of May is considered “Labor Day” in many countries around the world to celebrate the adoption of the 8-hour working day and the workers who achieved this legal introduction. This is thanks to the first international congress of socialist parties, which on July 14, 1889, in Paris decided that May 1st will be the “Day of Workers, International Unity and Solidarity”.

In Greece, May 1st or Protomayà, (gr. Πρωτομαγιά) literally the first day of May, is also considered a traditional spring festival, the origin of which dates back to ancient times. It is the time of rebirth – the end of the cold winter and the beginning of the long- awaited summer. The month of May, the last month of spring, was named after the Greek goddess Maia (gr. Μαῖα) the oldest and most beautiful of the seven nymphs, daughters of the Titan Atlas and the sea nymph Pleione.

Traditionally, on this day people go to the countryside, have picnics and barbecues with family and friends, fly kites and party in the open air. In some regions, celebrations start the night before. In northern Greece, fire jumping is one of the most widespread traditions.

Women of all ages gather, light a large fire, dance in circles and sing folk songs, with the younger ones jumping over the fire. At the evening’s ending and celebrations, each of them take a lighted torch to banish all evils from their homes. Weeks later, on June 24, the wreaths are then thrown into the fire.

In many places, Midsummer Eve festival celebrations last late into the night. Large bonfires, the so-called Johannes Bonfires, are lit, where people dressed in costumes perform traditional dances, sing songs and celebrate with plenty of food and wine.

Read the full article in Issue 23

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