Previously I noted what the editorial board said of the past two May Days. Today I’m going further back, when May Day was an occasion not for marches, but for labor-bashing, springtime celebrating, and making up new holidays.
On April 30, 1906, the board attacks French anarchists for subverting what would otherwise be a fine celebration of labor:
Every right-thinking man is sincerely desirous of increasing the earnings of the working classes…diffusing comfort, happiness and the sunshine of life over the very widest area that is possible. So when the artisans of Paris march by in peaceful parade, there are only hearty huzzas to greet their passing.
But the trouble lies in the fact that the annual demonstration has been seized on by those members of society who have the least right to call themselves honest workingmen. May first is the chosen day for the anarchists to display their red flags, and for the Socialists to declaim their subversive doctrines.
The following year, the board was a lot crueler:
This is the day that “organized labor” — that is, labor organized not to labor but to put all possible obstacles in the way of peacefully doing the work of the world — has selected as its own. This is the day the totemites have parades as an adjunct of strikes and general disturbance in the labor world….
[A]ll got together on May Day, and vied each with the other in the attempt to show who could make most noise, and show most contempt for law, for order, for industry, for any man’s rights.
And it didn’t end early in the century. On May Day 1962, the board declared in its editorial headline: “May Day is Law Day U.S.A.” That designation — and the creation of a separate American Labor Day — is sometimes considered a direct rebuke to the worldwide celebration Labor Day on May 1. Americans had previously declared it “Loyalty Day” and “Americanization Day,” and many presidents past (and one current) have underscored the point.
The board tried its hand at declaring days, too. In 1909 they suggested “Tag Day” — a charitable concept that would have had Angelenos buying ten-cent tags to wear on their clothes on May 1, with all money going to charity. Apparently it didn’t happen, as by 1912, the board was suggesting a Children’s Day:
Each succeeding year, as May Day approaches, it will be looked forward to with increasing joy by all the little ones, the poor, the parentless, the afflicted, scattered throughout our growing metropolis. What more suitable celebration for the unfolding of nature’s blossoms? What more perfect device for Christianizing the ancient flower festival of heathen days?
Children’s Day is in fact celebrated on various days by various countries and international organizations around the world; Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush have both proclaimed it. But according to Wikipedia, no one currently celebrates it on May 1.
In any case, boards saved their best efforts for May Day editorials that stuck to the old-time purpose of the holiday — celebrating the season. In 1909 (perhaps in case Tag Day didn’t go off), the board recommended honoring spring in Southern California each May Day:
[R]eflect upon the bright skies, the calm airs that overspread Southern California, the wealth of floral bloom…the jubilant song of the mocking-bird and the cheerful chirp of the lark upon the fence…if you would realize what an inestimable, inexpressible blessing the climate of California is to all of us who are privileged to live amid such scenes of beauty, and to revel in an atmosphere so salubrious and so comfortable to animal life as to be an everlasting luxury enjoyed universally by every creature that breathes the breath of life…[M]ore precious than the gold mines of California or the wealth of millionaires is the climate we enjoy in this land of all delights. May Day should not be neglected in a country like this.
And in April 1911, The Times put out an initially sweet call for a May Day celebration that descends, perhaps only to corrupt contemporary minds, into creepiness:
Come on, oh, you kiddies! Come, boys and babies, and even you who are foully named by grumpy race suiciders as “brats.” Come you fatherless and motherless tots…. Come, you little boys who are clad just now in short frocks, and who are anxiously awaiting the hour when breeches shall adorn your nethermost parts. Come, you dear little girls, whose bright eyes fill with tears of joy when a little pink or blue sash is pinned around your waists. Come with your ebony tresses or your hair of fine-spun gold. Come with your Teddy Bears or other dolls pressed against breasts that even in infancy unconsciously long for the sweet tyranny that accompanies motherhood…. Come, you little fellows, breeched and unbreeched….oh, now, dear girls and boys, when blessed May Day comes you shall climb in or be lifted into great Cyclops-eyed scarlet, and white, and green, and gray autos that will honk with delight as they carry you….
But the call worked. The paper held May Day parties in Los Angeles and Venice, and congratulated itself on May 2:
“Forever and forever,
So long as the river flows,
So long as the heart has passions
And so long as life has woes,”
each recurring May Day will bring a memory of the day of joy that The Times is glad it was able to help its kind friends give the kids.
Even as late as 1959, The Times was trying to convince everyone to party. The board expressed the sentiment with simpler words:
Today (hurray!) is the First of May.
Not a nicer day could happen to the human race. You don’t have to do anything about May Day. No parades. No presents to buy or tax returns to file or battle anniversaries to celebrate. Just breathe and be glad. Pick a flower…. May is effervescent and catching. Little boys climb trees. Little girls gather flowers in baskets. Larger people leave their stuffy parlors for the piny out-of-doors. Young men pop the question.
The troubled old world hangs suspended in a golden moment, like a great champagne bubble floating in the air.
Let’s everybody dance.