May 1st – “The Time of Love”
This day was already celebrated in ancient Rome, it was called Floralia because it was dedicated to the goddess of spring and fertility, Flora. With love in all forms, especially with fertility, the first of May was associated with other ancient and early medieval cultures on European territory and also later in the Czech Republic.
The habit of “First May Kiss” comes from pagan customs, where the nature was an example for people. And humanity believed that by their actions they can influence the nature.
Kissing beneath a blossomed tree meant ensuring fertility for a couple. Later, of course beauty for a woman.
At the beginning of 19th century, Czech Romantic poet Karel Hynek Mácha composed his best work, poem called “Máj” (May). This poem is about a tragic love between 2 people and it is a Czech classic. Almost every Czech knows the first few lines of this poem.
“Byl pozdní večer – první máj –
večerní máj – byl lásky čas.
Hrdliččin zval ku lásce hlas,
kde borový zaváněl háj.”
(“It was late evening, on the first of May,
The eve of May was the time of love.
The turtle-dove’s voice called to love,
Where rich and sweet pinewoods lay”.)
This was the milestone, when the “Day of Love” has become more popular.
The tradition says that on the first of May a girl should be kissed under a blossomed cherry tree, so she would stay beautiful the whole year. Otherwise, she would “dry out” in 1 year. This tradition comes from the 19th century and nowadays you can see people kissing under any blooming tree. It should be cherry, but any other tree should do the same thing.
In Prague there is an additional tradition. You should go up to “Petrin Hill” on this day and visit the statue of Karel Hynek Mácha. Here you should kiss in front of “poet of love” so your love will be as strong as the stone his statue is made from.
But the kissing is also closely related to the tradition of building the maypoles. Originally they were not built in the center of villages. They were build close to the windows of the chosen girls. The one who build the maypole, had to watch it as well as his love for the one chosen girl, and he was supposed to protect it before potential competitor, who could destroy it.
In some regions it is customary to make “pavements of love”, which means making paths using sand, lime, sawdust etc. to connect lovers houses.
Although we are getting influenced by western traditions, like Saint Valentine’s Day, the first May will be still celebrated as our “Day of love” and still it will be popular amongst the Czech population.
On May 1st “The Worker’s Day” is also celebrated in many countries. It commemorates the historical struggle of working people for an eight-hour work a day. In the Czech Republic we do celebrate “Labor Day” and it is one of our public holidays. Together with Labor Day we celebrate “The Day of love” which has been a Czech tradition for centuries.