Ella – May 1, 2017

I love festivals and gatherings. So, when I learned that Denmark has a notable gathering in May, I wanted to find out more about it. At heart, I may have just been looking for a good reason to bake, but I ended up being fascinated that a noted holiday with its roots in Chicago isn’t even acknowledged here, but carries on in Denmark and many other Scandinavian countries.

May Day Copenhagen

In Denmark’s Copenhagen Common, a “May Day” festival with roots in Chicago history draws thousands each year on May 1.

My research brought me back to Chicago in 1886 when the Haymarket Square Riot occurred. Laborers gathered in Chicago to strike for rights such as an eight-hour workday. A bomb was thrown, people were shot, and the event ended in upheaval. There is even a monument at the Chicago Police Headquarters in memory of the officers killed in the riot.

In Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, another sculpture memorializes the men buried there who were convicted in connection to the riot. It stands as a symbol of freedom and the labor movement.


An artist’s depiction of the Haymarket riot in Chicago on May 4, 1886.

To honor Haymarket Square and the labor movement, millions of people in more than 80 countries celebrate the labor-related “May Day,” but, surprisingly, it is not recognized in the United States. Denmark notes that day as May 1, with an International Workers’ Campaign and Festival Day. This gathering, held in Faelledparken (Copenhagen Common), draws thousands. It typically begins with political speeches, but ends with a festive atmosphere and has grown to include entertainment, food and beer. Here is where May Day history and festivity converge!

This wasn’t at all what I had in mind when I thought of May celebrations. I have to admit, I had conjured images of Maypole dancing – not labor rights! Many Scandinavian countries do celebrate May Day as a representation of the changing seasons and graduations, much like we do here in the States. These celebrations are often held on the last day of April, known as Walpurgis Eve, and are marked with singing and bonfires.

I also learned that these May Day celebrations are often held after the sun sets. Because the early spring season can be chilly, Nettle Soup is a favorite dish. In Scandinavian countries, nettles quickly appear once the snow melts, signaling spring.

nettle soup

Nettle soup is a favorite dish of Scandinavian May Day celebrations.

So, as we head into May and begin to enjoy warmer days, graduations, and new beginnings, I will be exploring Nettle Soup recipes. Now, where can you find nettle in the Chicago area?