May 01, 2015

Old and New Holidays of Spring

May and June are a good time of year. The days are longer, the sun is shining, and people are happy to be alive.

In the Soviet Union and Russian Federation, May has always begun with holidays, right from Day 1: May Day, or in Russian simply «первое Мая» (the first of May). When I was growing up it was officially called “the Day of International Workers’ Solidarity” (День международной соли–дарности трудящихся) and was always extended into May 2 for some reason. Just what this solidarity was all about was a total mystery to my childhood self, but there were nice little red flags for sale everywhere with the words “Peace! Labor! May!”

In Stalinist times, people were required to participate in official demonstrations, but by my childhood this duty was not as strictly enforced, so May marked the opening of dacha season. It was usually a bit cool during the “first May [holidays]” (первые майские). According to the folk wisdom “the bird cherries are blooming, that’s why it’s cold.” During the “second May [holidays]” (вторые майские), Victory Day, the weather was almost always good, and people would say “they’re specially driving away the storm clouds” («разгоняют тучи специально» – a reference to cloud seeding, which apparently was done to prevent rain in Moscow on some holidays). Again, people headed to their dachas, but not to relax: it was time to plant potatoes.

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