May 01, 2014

Maypole Day

Maypole in Fischbachau, Germany - May 2014.  Source.
Time to don your best spring outfits and dance around the maypoles!  Chances are that unless you live in a Germanic, Scandinavian or British culture, the traditions and meaning behind the May Day rituals might be a bit hazy to you.  May Day originated in pre-Christian times, and the holiday was associated with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, as a rite of spring.  The most beautiful girl would be crowned the Queen of May and flirtatious dances around a maypole would ensue; it was generally a time for people to celebrate the end of a long winter and anticipate the bounties of the coming summer.

Some German towns take their May Day celebrations so seriously that they engage in friendly maypole-stealing "warfare" against their neighbors!

"Part of this whole tradition is that one village tries to steal the maypole from the neighbours. If they succeed the safe return of the maypole is up for negotiation with ransoms involving copious quantities of beer and food. Some "Burschenvereine" have specialised in stealing the maypoles that are most closely watched by the strongest security. Maypole stealing is governed by a pretty strict code of conduct: sawing or damaging the maypole in any way is absolutely frowned upon as is a non-payment of the ransom. The most spectacular theft occurred back in 2004 when cunning thieves stole the maypole from the top of the Zugspitze using a helicopter. Once the 20 m long maypole had been safely flown to an Alpine hut negotiations began to determine how much ransom would be paid for its return. Rumour has it that the there were copious quantities of food and the beer flowed freely all night." (From "1st May is maypole day in Bavaria" http://www.bavaria.by/maypole-day-in-bavaria-germany)

Sounds like my kind of party!  I have never been in Germany for May Day, but when we visited in September 2012, we observed that several towns still had their maypoles up.

Maypole in Treuchtlingen, Germany - Sept 2012

Maypole in Mindelheim, Germany - Sept 2012

Does your country celebrate May Day?  Have you ever visited a country for May Day?


9 comments:

  1. Oh those horrible traditions of Southern Germany :D Here in Northern Germany we celebrate in the evening of the 30th April and then "dance in the May". As the first of May is Labour Day, this is a day of political demonstrations and May walks in the countryside here. Though I have never really thought about that it is somewhat different in the south ;)

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    1. :) I wish it were a holiday here in the U.S.!

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  2. I live in Britain and still didn't have a clue what this was all about. Thanks for clarifying though :)

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    1. From what I've seen on other blogs and through Google searches is that it's not a universal celebration! Not all Germans celebrate it (except that it corresponds with Labor Day, so they have the day off), not all Brits or Scandinavians celebrate it. I'm just fascinated by the maypoles, and I wish we did stuff like that here in the states. :)

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    2. I remember in Junior school we used to do this every year.. funnily enough as a child I never questioned why?! Now it all seems a little silly to be weaving in out and around the pole holding ribbons :)

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    3. Silly or not, you've got a memory to smile about! :)

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  3. Katrina, Even though I live in Germany, I've never really witnessed this. I would love to, but I'm always working. Next year, next year!

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    1. I know what you mean! There are a ton of things here in the U.S. that I still haven't done due to scheduling conflicts! That's what bucket lists are for, though - to keep track of what we want to make time to do!

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  4. There was none of that in Berlin - just a huge street party! But that looks like fun - maybe I'll head to Bavaria next year :)

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