The end of the cold, rainy and gray season of the year is celebrated as an official German holiday May 1, called “Tanz in den Mai,” or dance into May.
Like many other European countries, many towns in Germany honor a 2,000-year-old tradition on this day — the raising of a community maypole. People living in the pre-Christian eras honored nature with the festival of Flora, the goddess of flowers. The spring maypole continues to be widely practiced by townspeople in Bavaria, England, Finland, Sweden, Austria and the Czech Republic.
Maypoles are constructed of different materials, depending on the resources of the specific community.
Traditionally, it is made from a tree trunk that was formed into a long pole that people then decorate with a series of colorful ribbons, flowers and even carved figures.
Sometimes, a “Maibaum,” or May tree, a small pine tree, is placed at the very top of the pole, almost like a Christmas tree star. The pole is then set up somewhere in a square or on an official building. Many locals contribute to the decorations and the process of putting up the maypole. Often, local organizations or guilds place their symbols and signs on the maypole and local craftsman display their skills.
Maypoles are widespread still in Bavaria, and visitors to Munich can see the permanent Maibaum standing at the Viktualienmarkt.
The raising of the maypole serves as the centerpiece for the afternoon of celebration, as well as a season of more light, outdoor activity and possibility. There is another tradition where an interested young man places a maypole with a love symbol on it on a young woman’s front yard. It remains there for a month as a token of his affection and hopes. To return his affection, she traditionally welcomes him in her home for a meal. In this area, females sometimes anonymously place heart shaped objects at the doorstep of their love interests on this day as well.
In America, some of the spirit of May Day has been adopted. In several areas, neighbors prepare baskets and fill them with flowers, leaving them on each others’ doorsteps.
May Day is a holiday that offers us an opportunity to celebrate the pleasures of spring together, wishing everyone more light and more life. Use this holiday to start a maypole tradition of your own.
To make your own family maypole you will need:
- Cardboard tubes (internal role of wrapping paper) or a tall pole
- Decorative tape
- Streamers or ribbons (four, eight or 12 at twice the height of your pole)
- Flowers or decorations for the top
- An umbrella or flag stand or a volunteer to hold the umbrella while people dance around it
Decorate the pole with decorative tape. You can then color the base of the pole or affix stickers to it. Staple ribbons or streamers at the top in equal distance and denominations of four (four, eight or 12, depending on how many people/children will be dancing around the pole). Decorate the top of the pole by stapling or gluing flowers, a wreath or other handmade decorations on top. Have one person hold the pole while each child takes a ribbon and dances around in a circle.
Dr. Krystal White is a pediatric psychologist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center who specializes in community assets and developmental disorders.