The Origins of May Day
May Day, in medieval and modern Europe, is a holiday on May 1 for the celebration of the return of spring. The observance probably originated in ancient agricultural rituals, and the Greeks and Romans held such festivals. Although later practices varied widely, the celebrations came to include the gathering of wildflowers and green branches, the weaving of floral garlands, the crowning of a May king and queen, and the setting up of a decorated May tree, or Maypole, around which people danced. Such rites originally may have been intended to ensure fertility for crops and, by extension, for livestock and humans, but in most cases this significance was gradually lost, so that the practices survived largely as popular festivities.
The best known modern May Day traditions, observed both in Europe and North America, include dancing around the maypole and crowning the Queen of May. Fading in popularity since the late 20th century is the tradition of giving of "May baskets," small baskets of sweets or flowers, usually left anonymously on neighbors’ doorsteps.
In the 20th century, traditional May Day celebrations declined in many countries as May 1 became associated with the international holiday honoring workers and the labor movement.