GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Flowers have started to bloom, the sun has finally (yes, finally) peeked out from behind the winter clouds and the sound of chirping birds fills the air. Yes, spring is in the air, summer is following closely behind, and in Germany, the first of May is a 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. (Physically, I cannot comprehend how this is possible, but legend says it’s been done).
Decadelong 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 numerous teasing rants.
The first of May 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.
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, although some towns may decide to leave it up until summer.
The towering emblem can’t be missed and 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.