South America's Dia del Trabajador on May 1

Traditional Women (Cholitas) in Typical Clothes during 1st of May Labor Day Parade - La Paz, Bolivia
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If you are traveling in South America on the first day of May, you can expect to find banks, government offices, stores, post offices and businesses closed for the day as people celebrate the Día Internacional Del Trabajo or Dia del Trabajador with parades, demonstrations and other symbols of solidarity with the worker.

in English this is known as the Day of the Worker and is one of the most important for the working class population of South America, recognizing their contribution to society. Although some countries also call it Labor Day, it holds much more significance for the working class and labor unions in South America.

History

Venezuela celebrated Día Internacional del Trabajo for the first time on May 1, 1936. Day of the Worker, which is also known as May Day, had already been established in Europe. It wasn't long before this day would shortly sweep across the Latin American countries. Although the day was changed to July 24th from 1938-1945, it was changed back to celebrate the event on the same day as European and other South American countries.

The communist and socialist countries embraced the Day of the Worker, and over time, May Day became associated with those political systems in many non-English speaking countries.

In 1889 in Paris, the International Working Men's Association chose May 1st to establish an international holiday in celebration of the working class and in commemoration of the Haymarket Martyrs, who lost their lives when a labor protest near Chicago’s Haymarket Square turned into a riot. Thereafter, the red flag became the symbol of the blood of working class martyrs in their battle for workers rights internationally. The Haymarket Martyrs are all but ignored in the history of the United States, who moved the May Day labor celebrations to September.

The first Monday in September is now the Labor Day holiday, but it has very little to do with the reason for a working man's holiday.

May 1st Traditions

Long before May Day, The Workers' Day, born in the struggle for the eight-hour day came to be, the first of May was a traditional day of feasting, celebrating spring, fertility, romance, and more. Unlike Easter, Whitsun or Christmas, May Day is the one festival of the year for which there is no significant church service.

Because of this, it has always been a strong secular festival, particularly among working people who in previous centuries would take the day off to celebrate it as a holiday, often clandestinely without the support of their employer. It was a popular custom, in the proper sense of the word—a people's day—so it was naturally identified with the labor and socialist movements and by the twentieth century, it was firmly rooted as part of the socialist calendar.

May Day Clashes in Chile
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Dia del Trabajador in Different Countries

May Day has different customs associated with the holiday ranging from family time to workers' rallies.

  • In Argentina friends and family meet for an asado or barbecue with meats cooked on an open grill.
  • In Brazil, it is common for minimum wage and salaries to be adjusted on this public holiday.
  • In Chile and Colombia, there are many rallies and many unions use the day as an opportunity to discuss labor issues.
  • In Ecuador, Paraguay, and Peru it is called Labor Day.
  • In Uruguay, there is a plaza called First Day of May where the biggest events are held.

May 1st Closures

Due to these celebrations pretty much everything shuts down on May 1. It's a good idea to do any shopping and banking a few days in advance, instead of waiting until the day before like so many other people as it will be crowded and frustrating.

Depending on what the economic and political climate is like in the city you are visiting, events can be a celebration or more of a protest which is something that could get out of control. Ask your concierge or local friends if it's safe to go out or it's best to take a rest day in the hotel.