The origins of May Day are lost in time, they are linked to pagan customs which celebrated with different rites but all marked by joy, the return of spring and therefore the renewal of the cycle of life. They were demonstrations born from the sentiment of the ancient Umbrian people. The spirit with which the spring festival was conformed was a hymn to love and the rediscovered joy of living after the harsh and cold days of winter. We danced, we drank the wine from the previous year after the necessary rest period, we sang. Those that were recited to pay homage to the flower season were authentic poetic remains.
The ancient chronicles inform us that Assisi, at the beginning of the 14th century, reached its maximum splendor; this is confirmed by the extension of the city walls, the castles in its possession, the magnificence of its churches, the presence of the greatest master painters including Giotto, Cimabue, Simone Martini, the Lorenzetti brothers etc… It is more or less than this period also saw the division of the city, which is not the only example in Italy into “Parte de Sotto” and “Parte de Sopra” belonging respectively to the rival Fiumi and Nepis families: thus the hatreds and ambitions of the families take shape, of the political parties of Guelphs and Ghibellines. The measures of the magistrates, the censures of the ecclesiastics, the exile of the leaders are of no avail. Alternatively, also relying on capable captains from other cities, one side overpowers the other, but for a short time because the spirit of the citizens and families of the vanquished seeks and immediately obtains revenge.
The first bloody clash of which we have news, according to A. Fortini, dates back to 14 November 1376. La Parte de Sotto shouting “kill! kill!” surprises opponents in their sleep; but this is only one link in a long chain. During these periods of civil strife, however, the custom of celebrating the spring festival which takes the name of Calendimaggio is always kept alive. The songs and music come back to life, the girls’ serenades under the balconies replace the clash of weapons in various parts of the city, the King of the party is elected. This custom has continued for centuries. Popular participation is alive. For these nights, citizens interrupt the habit of returning home at the sound of the bell that announces the two hours after the Hail Mary and remain in the squares and streets to listen to the minstrels.
In 1954 the festival took on, with the enthusiasm of all the citizens, the evocative form it has retained to this day. The challenge returns between the two “Parts” of the city: this time not bloody. The two factions give rise to a dispute that recalls the times of May Day. Popular participation is so intense that for three days the city relives in every dimension the atmosphere that had characterized it over the centuries.