May 1st is International Labour Day in many countries. It is also a national holiday in Greece commonly known as ‘Protomagia’, meaning the first day of May.
Protomagia, or May Day, has its roots in ancient Greece, celebrating Spring and nature’s rebirth with a flower festival.
The month of Maios (May) took its name from the Goddess Maja, whose name comes from the ancient word Maia, nurse and mother.
Protomagia is a holiday where people traditionally go to the countryside for picnics, to fly kites and to gather flowers. However the usual celebrations may be a little different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
May, according to Greek folklore, has two meanings: The good and the bad, rebirth and death. The custom celebrates the final victory of the summer against winter as the victory of life against death goes back to the ancient years.
This day was also dedicated to the goddess of agriculture Dimitra and her daughter Persephone, who this day emerges from the underworld and comes to earth. Her coming to earth from Hades marks the blooming of nature and the birth of summer.
Another ancient celebration that Protomagia has its roots in is Anthestiria, a celebration in honour of Dionysios (the Greek God of theatre and parties) a festival of souls, plants, and flowers, celebrating the rebirth of man and nature.
The custom around Greece on May 1, is to decorate the doors of houses with flower wreaths, as a way of welcoming the power of nature and upcoming summer into the home. The wreath is made from various flowers, handpicked and knitted together. In some parts of Asia Minor, people put on each wreath, except flowers, garlic for the evil eye, a thorn to protect the house from enemies and an ear for a good harvest.
The wreaths adorn the doors of houses until the day of St. John the Harvester (June 24) when all the wreaths of the neighbourhood are gathered and burnt in a big fire, the fire of the saint.
In villages across Corfu, residents traditionally walk around holding a Cypress tree trunk, decorated with yellow daisies.
Called the “Mayoxillo”, the trunk is covered in a wreath made from green branches and is carried by young men wearing white clothes and red scarves as they sing songs about May.
Kali Protomagia- Happy 1st day of May!