Bavaria celebrates its May Day with an exuberant community event. It is called ‘May pole raising’. As the name indicates it involves raising a long pole, which sometimes reaches a height of 90 meters. This highly laborious work is done manually by a group of able-bodied men. No machinery is used in this. Raising a separate Maypole is each locality started only in the 16th century.
When a tree is selected for the Maypole, it is skinned and decorated. Spruce is the tree usually selected for the event. The way of the decoration varies from place to place. Some use plane poles with a wreath hung around it from the apex. Some decorate the pole with beautifully carved figures. Food and liquor bottles are often attached to the topmost part of the pole. In some places they paint the pole white and then a winding blue band is painted carefully on it. The blue and white spiral start from the bottom left and end at the top right, when it is done correctly. This is a fertility symbol and the pole and the wreath symbolize the male and the female respectively.
After selecting the pole, it is carried to a public place and hoisted by men. A pole can be used for five years. They use long poles attached with a strong rope at one end. The May pole is then supported by this rope and hoisted slowly and planted in a hole which is already made for the purpose. It usually takes the better part of two hours to hoist the pole. It depends on the length and weight of the pole.
The whole community gathers to cheer the hoisters. After the pole is properly raised the festivities begin. Elaborate feasting and revelry follows for the whole day. All the citizens turnout in their fineries to celebrate the event.
During 17th and 18th century, the Maypole raising was banned to prevent the people from stealing the trees from government forests. But in the beginning of the 19th century, the good natured Ludwig I reinstated the festival as it gave his people a reason to celebrate and be happy as a community.
The ‘maypole dance’ is another community fete that is performed after the installation of the Maypole. Since it is a fertility symbol, the lovers choose to court by dancing around the Maypole. Maypole stealing is another fun activity that is conducted in connection with this celebration. The people try to steal the maypoles of their neighboring areas. If they happen to succeed, the owners of the pole will have to pay a ransom for their pole. The people who appropriate the pole are supposed to return the pole without a scratch, on receiving the ransom of beer and cold cuts. The same way, it is compulsory for the people who lose their poles to pay the ransom.
This is a community event that brings the people of the community together. The festivities and feasting makes this a fabulous occasion for all concerned.
by Marina Chernyak