Germans observe Labor Day, welcome spring May 1
May 1 is a special day in Germany and some neighboring countries. Germans observe Labor Day, commemorating May 1 of 1890, when this day was proclaimed as the day of the working class during the first international workers’ congress in Paris. It was a day to fight for an eight-hour workday and other working-class rights. Trade unions and workers met for assemblies, demonstrations and political speeches.
May 1 is also the day to welcome spring, observing several traditions. The night prior to May 1 is known as Witches Night, a night to chase away the demons of winter.
Weird things happen on the night of April 30 to May 1. It’s a custom mainly for children and teenagers to play tricks on neighbors such as ringing doorbells and running off or putting mustard on door handles. Residents living off base must keep a watchful eye on their houses and vehicles.
They should park their cars in the garage, if they have one. Because if they leave the car outside, they might find it wrapped in toilet paper or decorated with ketchup the following morning. They also should make sure everything sitting outdoors, which others easily can pick up, such as doormats and flower pots, get placed indoors for that night. It could be gone or placed somewhere else the next morning.
Sometimes, older children or adults do destructive things like lifting drainage covers in the middle of the road or moving traffic signs. So drivers are asked to be very careful at night or the following morning, because these actions create safety hazards and result in property damage. German Polizei patrol the neighborhoods and take appropriate action if necessary.
Legend has it that on the night of April 30, evil ghosts represented by cold weather, snow and darkness meet with witches and demons at Blocksberg hill in the Harz mountains. Here they get up to mischief before they take off on broomsticks, pitchforks and billy goats at midnight.
The origin of witches night goes back to Pagan times, when people believed that evil ghosts tried to prevent the “Queen of Spring” from entering the country. Witches and demons were masters of people and things, so people did a lot to protect themselves. They hid billy goats and broomsticks so witches would not be able to ride on them through the night and do evil things. It was an unwritten law that children must not get beaten with a broomstick, because it could be a witch’s tool.
Also, socks were put cross-shaped on children’s beds, pentagrams were hung over house entrances or sacred salt was scattered on the threshold. Residents used several herbs known to ban witches and to smoke out houses and stables. Herbs included are, St. John’s wort and juniper.
Men made a lot of noise with whips and gun shots and lit fires to scare away demons. Cattle was driven through fire to secure their fertility for the following year, and young couples jumped over fire to make sure their love would last
Witches night is also called “Walpurgis” night. Walpurga was an English saint who worked as a missionary in Germany in the eighth century. In 761, she became the abbess of a monastery in Heidenheim, which was founded by her two brothers Willibald and Wunibald, who also were saints. She was known for exorcising demons from the bodies of the sick. Walpurga died in 779, and on May 1, 871 her body was transported to Eischstätt to be reburied next to her brothers.
Another German tradition observed at the beginning of May is to “dance into May.” Various associations and sports clubs sponsor “Tanz in den Mai” with live music in community halls, gyms, gasthauses or other facilities that house dancing halls.
In several villages of the KMC, the May tree will be put up on the evening of April 30 or in the morning of May 1. Sometimes this ceremony is combined with a village fest.
The May tree usually is a fir tree with the lower branches stripped and only the treetop untouched. The pole is decorated with colorful ribbons and craftsmen’s trade ornaments like sausages for the butchers, pretzels for the bakers, or carved wooden figures. May poles symbolize the beginning of spring and hope for a good harvest.
Dance into May is offered:
8:30 p.m. in Lautertalhalle, Katzweiler, with disc jockey, cocktails and snacks. Admission fee is €4. 8 p.m. in Maschinenhalle, Mittelbrunn.
May tree fests, putting up of May trees in the KMC:
Monday: Witches night fest with putting up of May tree, 6 p.m. on Drehenthalerhof (district of Otterberg); May fest, 7 p.m. on Dorfplatz in Schwedelbach; May tree fest, 6 p.m. on Dorfplatz in Krickenbach; putting up of May trees in Schallodenbach, (7 p.m., center), Niederkirchen and in Stelzenberg near Lindenbrunnen (fountain).
Tuesday: May fest, 11 a.m. Reichenbach-Steegen fairgrounds; May fest on Dorfplatz in Erzenhausen; May fest in Fockenberg-Limbach; May fest on Dorfplatz in Miesau; May fest in school yard in Niederkirchen.