Minneapolis MayDay Parade & Festival

In elementary school, we celebrated May Day (May 1) by making May baskets that we could leave on our neighbor’s doorsteps; there may also have been a maypole involved once. What started out as a Celtic, pagan festival centuries ago is now commonly a celebration of spring, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. Our local MayDay Festival is 38 years strong and takes place this weekend (Sunday, May 6), and it’s so much more than maypoles and May baskets.

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) of Minneapolis started this neighborhood tradition in an effort to bring the community outdoors after a long winter. What began as a group of 50-60 people in 1975 has grown to an event and parade drawing more than 50,000 spectators. Each year has a community or issue-based theme (in honor of those lost in the 35W bridge collapse, to imagine rebuilding a better economic system) with this year being no different: The End of the World As We Know It, focusing on “a community’s move away from fossil fuel dependency, toward a more sustainable, vibrant future.”

MayDay Ceremony, by Bruce Silcox
Photos courtesy of HOBT

Volunteers and members of HOBT work tirelessly starting in February to bring an event and parade that wows, creating a story and building spectacular puppets from water, flour, newspaper, and paint. The parade moves down Bloomington Avenue (starting at 25th Street East at 1 p.m.) in South Minneapolis, telling the year’s story through music, dancing, and giant puppets. The parade ends at Powderhorn Park, where a pageant retells the story through live music, a stunning flotilla (Spanish word for fleet of ships) moving across the lake, and an ending ceremony. The day ends with a festival filled with food, live music, dancing, poetry, canoe rides, and more. Keeping with the theme, one of the stages will be powered by solar energy, food will be compostable, fountains will provide free water for drinking, and there will be opportunities to learn about Minneapolis’ sustainable efforts.

The event is very family friendly and accessible to all, with a tactile tour for visually impaired attendees and ASL interpreters for the hearing impaired.

Each year HOBT offers a schedule of puppet shows October through May, so if you miss the MayDay events but visit in the winter, the community theater’s Saturday matinees are guaranteed family fun.