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May Daze: Public holidays across Europe in May

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Girls marching in a Constitution Day parade in Szczecin, Poland. Photo: Wlodi
Girls marching in a Constitution Day parade in Szczecin, Poland. Photo: Wlodi

Wednesday May 2, 2012—

If you’ve been traveling in Europe this week, were you caught unawares by a spate of public holidays? Over 40 countries and territories across the continent took time out Tuesday for May Day while some countries opted for a double dose of May Day festivities.

In Russia, for example, both Monday and Tuesday were public holidays, while in Serbia both yesterday and today have been public holidays. May Day comes in various guises in different parts of Europe. Workers’ marches (and other demonstrations of proletarian power or powerlessness) are de rigeur but, as April slips into May many Europeans also have to endure ghouls, goblins, witches and bonfires (think of it as being Halloween six months early).

This week of sporadic freedom from daily grind kicks off a month when Europe has a carnival of holidays. Observers from across the Atlantic possibly gaze on with envy (or perhaps they see such an indulgent string of holidays as clear evidence of European indolence).

Changing times

Travelers are often surprised to find rail and bus schedules run to a completely different tempo on public holidays in Europe, so it’s worth being alert to upcoming high days and holy days in the areas through which you plan to travel.

Remember grocery stores and other shops may be closed and opening times for restaurants, museums and galleries may differ from the norm.

Days to remember

Tomorrow, May 3, Poland celebrates Constitution Day (and, being Poland, commemorations of the 1791 Constitution inevitably are attended by lots of prayers).

Then on Friday, May 4, all Denmark devotes an entire day to prayer. Well, nominally at least. Store Bededag (Great Prayer Day) is a good deal less prayerful in Denmark than the average working day in many other European countries, but it is nonetheless a very good excuse for a day off work.

Ireland and the United Kingdom kick in next week belatedly celebrating the start of May with a public holiday on Monday the 7th.

Then a mighty range of European countries will enjoy designated holidays on May 8 or 9 to mark the anniversary of the end of Second World War hostilities in Europe.

Russians, having enjoyed two days off work this week, will next week have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday free. But Russians do pay a price for skipping five working days in a 10-day period. The first two Saturdays in May are regular working days.

Religious matters

Another May calendrical highpoint is Ascension Day, which this year is marked on the 17th of the month. This is the chance for yet another public holiday in some two dozen European countries (and in Germany, where it is most certainly a day off work, Ascension Day is also Fathers’ Day).

Then as the end of the month nears, most countries in western, central and southern Europe prepare to mark Pentecost, which this year falls on Sunday May 28. That means another holiday on the ensuing Monday.

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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