Healing the whole world

All’s right with the world during the May Day Parade and Festival

Keri Carlson

Every May, for 31 years, the Phillips neighborhood has been transformed into an earthy Mardi Gras. Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre’s annual May Day Parade and Festival fills Bloomington Avenue South with winged fairies on stilts, snaking dragons and monstrous puppets that loom above the crowd.

Every year, the festival has a new theme, and a new batch of colorful creatures emerges. But always, when the parade concludes at Powderhorn Park, a 200-person cast crafts a story using four large puppets that represent prairie, woods, river and sky – the essence of May Day in Minnesota.


The first May Day festival performed to a gathering of approximately 100 people; now, the celebration draws approximately 50,000. May Day is about bringing people together to celebrate a community.


May Day evokes the anarchist, socialist, leftist, activist spirit that has deep roots in Minnesota: from the 1934 Teamsters union truck strike to former Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone. The first festival, in 1975, celebrated the end of the Vietnam War. For the last several years, May Day’s themes and floats have reflected opposition to the war and frustration with the Bush administration.


Though May Day can, at times, seem like a large protest, the festival is optimistic about change. This year’s theme, Where Do We Go from Here?, is looking ahead at the future.


After long, seemingly endless months of cold and darkness, May Day celebrates the return of light and warmth. As the giant sun puppet rises to greet the assembled crowd, everyone sings, “You Are my Sunshine.”