Aoi Matsuri

One of the three major festivals of Kyoto, Japan, the Aoi Matsuri, or Hollyhock Festival, is believed to date from the sixth century. The festival’s name derives from the hollyhock leaves adorning the headdresses of the participants; legend says hollyhocks help prevent storms and earthquakes. Today, the festival, which was revived in 1884, consists of a re-creation of the original imperial procession. Some 500 people in ancient costume parade with horses and large lacquered oxcarts carrying the “imperial messengers” from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the shrines. Discuss

Liberia National Unification Day

This annual observance in Liberia draws attention to the animosity between the Americo-Liberian elite and the indigenous majority. Under the leadership of President William V. S. Tubman, who led from 1944 to 1971, the divide between these two groups was diminished. Tubman introduced the National Unification Policy, which featured among other things an extension of the vote to women and the country’s indigenous people. The anniversary emerged as a means to draw support for the policy. The day reminds Liberians to remember what they hold in common and not to dwell on how they diverge. Discuss

White Lotus Day (Death of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky)

The anniversary of the death of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) is commemorated by members of the Theosophical Society, which was founded in New York in 1875 by Blavatsky and Henry Olcott. Olcott and Blavatsky moved to India in 1878, and the international headquarters for the Theosophical movement remains in Adyar (near Madras) today. She completed her most important work, The Secret Doctrine (1888), an overview of Theosophical teachings, along with numerous other books, before her death in 1891. Discuss

Lebanon Martyrs' Day

Martyrs’ Day has been observed as a public holiday since 1970 to honor the fallen heroes of Arab nationalism. The date, May 6, was selected to commemorate the 21 Arab intellectuals who were hanged on that date in 1916 in Beirut, Lebanon, and Damascus, Syria, by an official of the occupying Ottoman Empire. On Martyrs’ Day, ceremonies of public commemoration are led by government officials in Beirut at Martyrs’ Square, named in honor of the murdered nationalists. Officials and citizens also lay wreaths at martyrs’ monuments in Beirut and throughout the country. Discuss

Dutch Liberation Day

Liberation Day, or National Day, in the Netherlands celebrates May 5, 1945, the day on which the Nazi forces were driven out of Holland by the Allies. Although the Dutch had succeeded in remaining neutral during World War I, the country was invaded by the Nazis in May 1940 and rapidly overrun. The liberation of Holland in 1945 was an important step toward the subsequent defeat of the Nazis. Many Dutch cities hold special concerts on this day. Special commemorations are held in Amsterdam and around the country on May 5 each year, as well as on May 4, Remembrance Day. Discuss

Rhode Island Independence Day

Rhode Island was the first and only state to declare its independence from England entirely on its own. On May 4, 1776, both houses of the General Assembly renounced the colony’s allegiance to Great Britain—a full two months before the rest of the colonies followed suit on July 4. Rhode Islanders celebrate this event during May, which is Rhode Island Heritage Month, with flag-raising ceremonies, cannon salutes, and parades of local patriotic, veterans’, and scouting organizations. Discuss

Hakata Dontaku

The largest festival in Japan, Hakata Dontaku is held in Fukuoka City during Golden Week, the first week in May. The festival originated in the Muromachi Period (1333-1568) as a procession of the merchants of Hakata, an old section of Fukuoka City, paying their new year visit to the daimyo, or feudal lord. The festival highlight is a three-hour parade with legendary gods on horseback, floats, and musicians playing samisens (a three-stringed instrument similar to a guitar), flutes, and drums. Discuss

Festival of Sant' Efisio

The Sagra di Sant’ Efisio at Cagliari, in Sardinia, Italy, commemorates the martyrdom of a 3rd-century Roman general who was converted to Christianity and credited with saving the town from the plague. On May 1, a procession accompanies a statue of St. Efisio through the streets of Cagliari to the church of Pula, the town where he suffered martyrdom. Three days later, the statue returns to Cagliari. Several thousand pilgrims, wearing costumes that date from the 17th century and earlier, take part in the procession, which culminates in a parade down Cagliari’s main avenue. Discuss

The Game of St. Evermaire

The Spel van Sint Evermarus, or the Game of St. Evermaire, is a dramatic reenactment of the slaying of eight pilgrims in Rousson (Rutten), Belgium, on their way to the Holy Land in 699. This event is portrayed by the townspeople of Rousson each year on the first day of May in the meadow near the Chapel of St. Evermaire. Following a procession around the casket believed to contain the saint’s bones, costumed villagers representing St. Evermaire and his companions are attacked by 50 “brigands” led by Hacco, the legendary assailant. By the end of the drama, the saint and the seven pilgrims lie dead. Discuss

Walpurgis Night

People who lived in the Harz Mountains of Germany believed for many centuries that witches rode across the sky on the eve of St. Walpurga’s Day to hold a coven on Brocken Mountain. To frighten them off, people rang church bells, banged pots and pans, and lit torches topped with hemlock, rosemary, and juniper. The legend of Walpurgis Night is still celebrated in Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia with bonfires and other festivities designed to welcome spring by warding off demons, disaster, and darkness. St. Walpurga is the patron saint associated with protection against magic. Discuss