May 1st or May Day, the world around, conjures images of flowers born from April showers. Placing cones bursting full of blossoms upon the front doors of unsuspecting loved ones and neighbors. May poles with colorful ribbons being woven round by dancing happy young girls in layered dresses skipping to live music being played and happy standersby clapping and welcoming sunny days and new green leaves on the trees. Is it just me? This version of May Day has roots in many cultures extending as far back as Ancient Rome. This was not exactly the 1st of May picture we encountered in our corner of Copenhagen this past Fredag.
May 1st is also – you may or may not know – known as Labor Day or International Worker’s Day in many parts of the world. Adopted in 1889 by socialized countries to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution as well as American labor union strikes of the late 19th century pushing for fairer working conditions, including the 8-hour work day. We now live in the socialized country of Denmark who takes their May 1st celebrating very seriously. It is somewhat of a sacred institution here. At least for some. Every year the large Fælledparken – in our neighborhood – turns into a enormous union rally and party on the lawn. Booths set up for each labor union. There are speeches by local illuminati including the Prime Minister and others, followed by live music, DJ’s, food, carnival rides, cheap white wine and Tuborg beer – all to celebrate the day of the worker. And no one works. Well – most people aren’t working. It is a school holiday and bank holiday, so we all had a free day off. And to celebrate – almost everyone drinks. A lot. Skål to the working man!
To be fair, maybe we did not truly celebrate May 1st as a festive Dane. I feel fairly confident that if I had two able feet to walk with and wasn’t concerned about the escalating level of intoxication coming to and fro the park out on our neighborhood streets, we would have cruised through Fælledparken and checked it out. When in Copenhagen, right? But having experienced just a fragment of its celebrants on their way to the celebration made me a wee bit wary in my crutching for my life current condition. Open containers? Underage drinking? Check and check. Oh – that’s right. Did you know that you can legally buy alcohol here at 16. Yes. 16. So maybe they weren’t actually underage. But alcohol was everywhere. And the cans, bottles, cheap white wine and emptied bubbly all left exactly where it was finished. On the sidewalk. On the corner. By the cafe door. By our door. I am not intending to lay judgement. To each his own I usually say. And to be honest not one of these boisterous young attendees was really doing anything inappropriate that I witnessed – just celebrating a free day communally. And festively. And drunkly. Unlike other Danish holidays that we have experienced when the city shuts down and feels cavernous and echo-ey – leaving us to wonder where have all the people gone? (And where are we supposed to get groceries?) In contrast, May 1st was PACKED. To the brim. At least in our neighborhood. We waited alongside the throngs and masses for the bus that was late due to being over capacity – so packed, and filling more at each stop, that our children were worried that they were to be boxed in at the back of the bus and would be unable to get off at the requisite stop. Fear not, dear reader, as all of us – even I with my crutches – were able to maneuver the burgeoning bus crowd and make it to our destination.
So what did we do on this 1st of May? We celebrated this most Danish of holidays with an invitation to join some Danish and American friends at the opening of an outdoor seating patio for two little cafes in our neighboring neighborhood, Nørrebro. Lækkerier på Nørrebro is known for its fabulous cakes, Danish rugbrød sandwiches and latina Pisco Sours. Next door is the Green Buddha offering delicious thai fare and Singha beer. Order up, bundle up (it was cold) and listen to the festive South American rhythms of Trypical Cumbia – band members hailing from Chile, Columbia, England and Ecaudor singing in Spanish. Ai! Ai! Ai! All of this painted against the graffiti’d backdrop of Vedbæksgade (remember gade means street) made it a very colorful outing. How does this all fit together? Did it make sense? Not in a traditional sense. But as newly minted citizens of the world, sharing it with our new friends, throwing around an American football, it felt like a celebration indeed. We sat outside and enjoyed the music on this abnormally chilly May 1st (so I’m told by two Danes who would know) wrapped up in the cafe’s fleece blankets, and shared stories and talked of new plans and enjoyed excellent cake and a new sense of growing community. For this I will happily celebrate in solidarity.
Happy Maj to you and yours!