Origins of May 1st: where did Day of Unity of the People of Kazakhstan come from?

People's Unity Day in Kazakhstan
Celebrations of Day of People's Unity in Kazakhstan Photo credit: Kazinform

Every year May 1st is celebrated as a public holiday in Kazakhstan. On October 18, 1995, former President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a decree declaring May 1st as the Day of Unity of the People of Kazakhstan.

This event, which is celebrated with positive energy in every city throughout Kazakhstan, represents the solidarity of all the ethnic groups residing in the country of the “Great Steppe”.

However, where did custom of commemorating May 1st come from? In this article Kazinform News Agency correspondent tries to understand the origins of this day.

If we look at history, it becomes clear that May Day was not invented by the Russian Bolsheviks and striking workers from American city of Chicago. This date has ancient origins, tracing back to time when Ancient Italy honored the goddess Maya, a deity of the earth and fertility. In honor of her, the last month of spring was called May, and on its first day festivities and celebrations were held.

Onwards, this tradition was intended as Workers Solidarity Day in July 1889, following a pivotal strike by Chicago workers on May 1, 1886, who protested for an eight-hour workday instead of fifteen hours.

Later commemorated in Warsaw in 1890, this day quickly spread to other Russian Empire cities like St. Petersburg.

By 1897, May Day became a day of political significance, often marked by mass demonstrations. In 1917, the holiday was publicly observed with large-scale rallies under Communist slogans. In the Soviet Union, it was a significant public event marked by grand parades and a two-day holiday on May 1 and 2.

In Kazakhstan, the Day of Unity showcases the nation’s multicultural tradition by bringing together individuals from more than 150 ethnic groups in festive events with music, dance, and joyous celebrations.

Various cultural centers and community groups, including social workers, international students, and public associations, participate actively. An excellent place to visit is the ethnocultural exposition near Independence Square on Tauelsizdik Boulevard in Astana.

On this day representatives of all nations living in Kazakhstan establish their dwellings. These are unique mini-museums where you can find items of clothing, traditional utensils, and jewelry, but most importantly, you can taste dishes of different national cuisines.

Additionally, museums and libraries host exhibitions related to the holiday, helping to foster a deeper understanding of the diverse cultures and traditions among the residents of Kazakhstan, promoting national unity.

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