Commentary: True meaning of May Day: celebrating the worker

When I was a little girl, my mother would have us weave ribbons into our strawberry baskets and fill them with flowers. We'd then sneak up to our neighbors' homes, ring the bell and leave our beautiful little bouquets on their doorsteps.

We'd squeal with delight as we watched from behind a tree or across the street when they'd open the door and smile at their small gift. This is what May Day was for me.

Now, as an adult, I celebrate May Day a little differently. Around the world, the first of May is acknowledged as International Workers' Day. Here in the United States, we celebrate Labor Day in September, but more than 80 countries honor May 1 as a national holiday.

Each year, I try to be intentional in recognizing workers around the world. Especially in a time when our globalized work force contributes to my daily life, the products I use and the food I eat, I think it is important to pause and recognize the work that has been done and is being done on my behalf.

Here in the United States, we have hard-won labor laws that do a lot to protect workplace conditions. Our eight-hour workday, five-day workweek, minimum wage and child-labor laws all contribute to a healthier and safer work environment and, therefore, a better quality of life.

Sadly, we know that workers in other nations do not have such rights. Most recently, we have learned of the atrocious working conditions in China, where suicides are common and jobs feel more like slavery than opportunities to better oneself.

The truth is, even here in the United States, workers struggle to make a living wage, to receive respect in the workplace and, ultimately, to care for their families.

I gathered with hundreds of hard workers in Orange County to observe the day. In solidarity with laborers worldwide, we marched and we prayed. As comprehensive immigration reform takes national stage, we are reminded that many of the hardest workers in our nation are undocumented and our society reaps the benefits of their labor.

Jews and Christians have a biblical mandate to care for the worker among us. Truthfully, every faith uplifts the value of human dignity. I felt God's spirit stirring through the crowds last Wednesday, empowering, calling, comforting and sustaining.

God, help us open our eyes to global injustice, and ignite in us a fire to be the change!

The more I think about it, I like the idea of mixing the flowers and laborers together — the sweet thoughtfulness of a basket of flowers on a doorstep and the painful recognition of a world that can do more to care for its workers.

Beauty and innocence, injustice and struggle — the juxtaposition of our lives. I step into May with these in mind.

THE REV. DR. SARAH HALVERSON is the pastor of Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa.

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