Birth of a Holiday: The First of May - Eric Hobsbawm | libcom.org
In 1990 Michael Ignatieff, writing about Easter in the Observer, observed that 'secular societies have never succeeded in providing alternatives to religious rituals'. And he pointed out that the French Revolution 'may have turned subjects into citizens, may have put liberte, egalite and fraternite on the lintel of every school and put the monasteries to the sack, but apart from the Fourteenth of July it never made a dent on the old Christian calendar'. My present subject is perhaps the only unquestionable dent made by a secular movement in the Christian or any other official calendar, a holiday established not in one or two countries, but in 1990 officially in 107 states. What is more, it is an occasion established not by the power of governments or conquerors, but by an entirely unofficial movement of poor men and women. I am speaking of May Day, or more precisely of the First of May, the international festival of the working-class movement, whose centenary ought to have been celebrated in 1990, for it was inaugurated in 1890.