GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Flowers have started to bloom, the sun has finally peeked out from behind the winter clouds, and the sound of chirping birds fills the air. In Germany, May 1 is the day to celebrate the changing seasons.
Every year, on May Day, communities across Southern Germany gather to erect the Maypole — “Maibaum” in German. This tradition is done by manpower alone. About a dozen burley men dressed in overalls or lederhosen grapple the wooden pole, eventually bringing the 20 meter, or more, allegorical emblem upright. But it doesn’t stop there — the maypole must be defended.
It is tradition for different villages to steal each others’ poles on the day of the celebration. Decade-long wars have been brewing between neighboring villages, and many maypoles are guarded heavily during the first night. Losing a maypole will most likely result in have to pay a hefty ransom — copious amounts of beer — and being on the receiving end of teasing rants.
May 1 is always a jovial celebration, and the tradition of the maypole dates back to the 16th century. It became the custom to cut down a tall spruce and decorate it with a large green wreath and colorful garlands. And in recent years, many villages and towns have added additional decorations on each side of the tree trunk that showcase the local community, clubs and important landmarks.
Numerous celebrations take place at the foot of pole to include singing, dancing and feasting. The town’s festive stump usually remains standing until Pentecost, or Whit Monday; although, some towns may decide to leave it up until summer.
The towering emblem can’t be missed, and it generally stands upright in the center of villages inviting light and warmth to the community.
Community members who wish to attend May Day celebrations can usually find information on posters and signs outside their town.