If you have read the latest posts on Easter or Witch Burning, you will know that Czechs have some interesting and unique traditions that are deeply rooted and intertwined through various moments in history. When I was growing up in Prague, I remember going to Letná with my grandparents for the massive Labor Day parades that every good citizen, of then communist Czechoslovakia, proudly attended and waved flowers and flags around. The procession was elaborate with military shows and lots of flowers. It was the combination of worker’s unity and welcoming the Spring at the same time.
Labor day actually originated in the US on May 1st in 1886 when workers called a strike with which they demanded a daily 8 hour shift as opposed to the long hours they worked. Today, Labor Day is celebrated in 142 countries on May 1st or the first Monday in May. Interestingly, the US now celebrates Labor Day on the 1st Monday each September.
Today, May 1st in the Czech Republic represents Love and the welcoming of Spring more than anything else. As with Easter, celebrating Love on May 1st has its roots deep within Pagan traditions. It all started many centuries ago in Western Europe when the Celts celebrated Spring and presented symbolic offerings to the Gods of Sun and Fertility. The tradition that is carried out in the Czech Republic is much more romantic these days. A kiss under a fruitful tree originally intended to ensure the couple’s fertility. Today, a woman should be kissed under a blossoming cherry tree, so that she is beautiful and attractive all year long. Obviously this tradition must not have been around too long, since kissing in public in the 19th century would have been unthinkable.
But many believe the beginning of the 19th century is when the kissing tradition started to take its shape and form, as this is when a famous Czech Romantic writer, Karel Hynek Mácha, lived and worked. One of his famous poems he wrote is called Máj (May) and is about a tragic tale of two lovers. Some of the verses go like this:
Although the clear connection of Mácha and May 1st – the Lover’s holiday - is not officially documented, this is the connection lovers in Prague make. So if you are in Prague on May 1st, the thing to do is go to Petřín and visit the statue of Karel Hynek Mácha and find a blossoming [cherry] tree to kiss your loved one so that you don’t shrivel up this year [if you are a woman].