Today is Labor Day, a bank holiday with socialist roots throughout most European countries, including Romania. The holiday originates in the United States of America, where it was intended as a commemoration of the Haymarket Affair in Chicago, a massacre that took place during a workers’ strike for 8-hour day. This is quite ironic, when you consider that socialism (and communism, by extension) has always been an anathema topic in the US. Additionally, the Haymarket Affair actually took place on May 4th (not 1st), 1886, and today’s Labor Day celebration in the US no longer coincides with its European equivalent, but takes place on the first Monday of September.
But back to the Romanian Labor Day! Interestingly, the holiday is celebrated in pretty much the same way today as it was during Communist times: people have a picnic in the park (usually involving pork barbeque and beer) or head to the sea-side for the official opening of the summer season. There are a few key differences, though:
Today, Romanians have a plethora of meats and beers to choose from, as opposed to Communist times, when they needed queue for a “standard” portion of “mici” (Romanian grilled meatballs) and the local (and only!) beer brand.The mandatory “1st of May” parades commanded and organized by the Communist Party are just a long-gone nightmare today.
The celebration became much more elaborate during Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorial regime, accounting for the growing egomania of the ruling family.
People from all walks of life were summoned weeks before the official parade, to rehears the songs, dances, and complex choreography associated with the 1st of May. Typically, the would receive invitations from their employer like the ones you see below, which specified the meeting point, time, and exact position the person should occupy:
In the last decades of the Communist regime in Romania, Labor Day came to be celebrated “through work”. That is, it was no longer a holiday, but a regular working day, with the mandatory parades on top, meant to emphasize and support the regime’s mandates: paying the external debt of the country, developing the industry and overachieving production targets.
In any case, enjoy a break on Labor Day, and don’t forget that socialism made it possible!
Enjoyed this article? Listen to more Communist stories and see Bucharest’s landmarks in one of our upcoming walking tours!