, region of N Europe. It consists of the kingdoms of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark; Finland and Iceland are usually considered part of Scandinavia. Physiographically, Denmark belongs to the North European Plain rather than to the geologically distinct Scandinavian peninsula (which is part of the ancient Baltic Shield), occupied by Norway and Sweden. Sometimes the word “Norden” is applied to the five countries because it avoids the physiographic and cultural limitations of the word Scandinavia. The Scandinavian peninsula (c.300,000 sq mi/777,000 sq km) is c.1,150 mi (1,850 km) long and from 230 to 500 mi (370–805 km) wide and is bordered by the Gulf of Bothnia, the Baltic Sea, the Kattegat and Skagerrak straits, the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean. It is mountainous in the west (rising to 8,104 ft/2,470 m at Glittertinden, S Norway) and slopes gently in the east and the south. The region was heavily glaciated during the Ice Age; Jostedalsbreen (W Norway), the largest glacier of mainland Europe, is a remnant of the great ice sheet. The peninsula's western coast is deeply indented by fjords. Short, swift-flowing streams drain to the west, while long parallel rivers and numerous lakes are found in the east; Vänern and Vättern, both in S Sweden, are among Europe's largest lakes. Nearly a quarter of the peninsula lies N of the Arctic Circle, reaching its northernmost point in Cape Nordkyn, Norway. The climate varies from tundra and subarctic in the north, to humid continental in the central portion, and to marine west coast in the south and southwest. The region's best farmland is in S Sweden. The peninsula is rich in timber and minerals (notably iron and copper), and has a great hydroelectricity generating capacity. Its coastal waters are important fishing grounds. Large petroleum and natural-gas deposits have been found off Norway's coast in the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Population is concentrated in the southern part of the peninsula; Stockholm and Göteborg (both in Sweden) and Oslo (Norway) are the largest cities. Except for the Sami (Lapps) and Finns in the north and east, the Scandinavian peoples speak a closely related group of Germanic languages—Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, Faeroese, and Swedish. The oldest Germanic literature (see Old Norse literature
) flourished in Scandinavia, especially in Iceland.
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Many of the customs associated with the first day of May may come from the old Roman Floralia, or festival of flowers. These include the gathering of branches and flowers on May Day Eve or early May Day morning, the choosing and crowning of a May Queen, and dancing around a bush, tree, or decorated pole, the maypole. The sports and festivities that are held on this day symbolize the rebirth of nature as well as human fertility. In fact, the ritual drinking and dancing around the maypole in colonial America so horrified the Pilgrim Fathers that they outlawed the practice and punished the offenders. This is probably why May Day has remained a relatively quiet affair in this country.
In Communist countries, May Day has been transformed into a holiday for workers, marked by parades that are an occasion for displaying military strength. The May Day Parade in Red Square, Moscow, has long been a spectacular example, though less so in recent years with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the resulting relaxation of Cold War tensions. Perhaps in reaction to such displays, Americans instituted Loyalty Day and Law Day on this same date. In Great Britain, May 1 is Labor Day. More than 50 other countries also celebrate Labor Day in honor of workers on May 1.
See also Vappu
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 334
BkDays-1864, vol. I, p. 570
BkFest-1937, pp. 17, 58, 88, 113, 122, 186, 261, 278, 310
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 115
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 129, 202, 203, 534, 695, 750, 866, 946, 1064
EncyEaster-2002, p. 397
FestSaintDays-1915, pp. 102, 105, 109
FestWestEur-1958, p. 37
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 205
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 315
OxYear-1999, p. 184
Celebrated in: Albania, Bangladesh, Czech Republic, Eritrea, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Gibraltar, Guyana, Iraq, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Myanmar, Nepal, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Syria
May Day (Czech Republic) (Prvého Máje)
The traditional maypole associated with May Day in western Europe, the United States, and elsewhere plays a central role in the celebration of May 1 in the former Czechoslovakia (now the countries of the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic). On May Day Eve, boys traditionally plant maypoles underneath their girlfriends' windows, so that the girls will wake up and see them first thing in the morning. In some villages, it is customary to raise a maypole beneath the window of the most popular girl in town. The maypole is said to represent the girl's life; the taller it is, the longer she will live. Sometimes it is a small tree, decorated with ribbons and colored eggshells.
Bands give concerts in village squares on May Day, and musicians go from house to house, singing. As a traditional spring festival, May Day has been a time for Czechs and Slovaks to sing, dance, and take pleasure in the beauty of the season.
See also May Day Eve in the Czech Republic
BkFest-1937, p. 88
Celebrated in: Czech Republic
May Day (France)
In France the celebration of May Day is inextricably linked to flowers. It is considered good luck to wear lilies-of-the-valley on this day, and it is believed that any wishes made while wearing the flowers are bound to come true. Sometimes sprays of pressed lilies are sent to distant friends and loved ones. In southern France the flower vendors sell lilies-of-the-valley on every street corner.
The First of May has political overtones in France as well, and it is a public holiday officially observed as Labor Day. Political demonstrations, speeches, and parades are common on this day—similar to May Day celebrations in England, Russia, and other countries.
French Government Tourist Office
444 Madison Ave., Fl. 20
New York, NY 10022
800-391-4909 or 212-838-7800; fax: 212-838-7855
BkDays-1864, vol. I, p. 579
BkFest-1937, p. 122
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 85
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 696
FestWestEur-1958, p. 37
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 315
Celebrated in: France
May Day (Scandinavia)
In Scandinavia, the celebration of May Day actually begins on April 30, Walpurgis Night. But the big event of the day is a mock battle between summer and winter, usually represented by two husky young men. Summer always wins, and winter is buried in effigy.
In the Swedish university town of Uppsala, students wearing white caps gather together to hear songs and speeches. Huge bonfires, also associated with Walpurgis Night, are popular in many areas of Sweden. Political speeches, parades of labor organizations, and public demonstrations take place on May 1 as well.
There is a superstition in Norway, dating back to pre-Christian times, about hearing the cuckoo's first call in spring: If the call comes from the south, the year will be good; if it is heard from the north, one will become ill or die in the coming year; if it comes from the west, one will be successful; and if it comes from the east, one will be lucky in love. For this reason, traditional Norwegian calendars show a bird perched in a tree on the mark for May 1.
BkFest-1937, p. 310
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 116
FolkWrldHol-1999, pp. 317, 318
May Day (Spain)
Many Spanish May Day customs are believed to have pagan origins ( see Floralia). At the end of April, young people (in some villages, only bachelors) choose a tall pine tree to use as a maypole and set it up in the plaza. They decorate it with ribbons, beads, and eggshells, and as they dance around it they sing May songs. The ceremonies around the tree continue for several days, and on the last day of the month the tree is sold to raise money for refreshments or a dinner.
La Maya refers to both the girls who take part in the May Day celebrations and to the May Queen. It is traditional for a group of boys and girls to choose a queen, sit her on a couch or chair, and dance around her on May Day. They sing love songs, or coplas, in which they ask for food and money from everyone who passes by, and then use the contributions for a feast or banquet.
In some areas, the May Queen has been replaced by a Cruz de Mayo, or May cross. An altar is set up with candles, a white cloth, and a cross decorated with flowers and ribbons. There is dancing around the altar and requests for food and money. Sometimes young girls carry the wooden May crosses through the streets, asking for contributions. It is possible that this custom resulted from the confusion of May Day with the Feast of the Holy Cross, formerly observed by the Roman Catholic Church on May 3 ( see Exaltation of the Cross), and still observed by Catholics in Latin America ( see Día de la Santa Cruz)
Tourist Office of Spain
666 Fifth Ave., Fl. 35
New York, NY 10103
212-265-8822; fax: 212-265-8864
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 1064
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 318
Celebrated in: Spain
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.