I started this series a while back, because as an expat, living in a different country away from home, you encounter a whole lot of things that are just different from what you’re used to. This week it so happened that I have two back-to-back posts about ‘Things you wouldn’t know”. I hope you enjoy those kinds of posts. I am always intrigued by the differences between different cultures and customs. You can find the archives here.
Happy May everybody. Yesterday was a holiday in Germany (don’t you think I should be allowed to observe those? Yeah, me too.). I am not sure what all the traditions and background stories to the May Day festivities are, because there are quite a few. I think it’s our “labor day” and also in the Bundesland (federated state) that I come from, it’s considered the day of “acknowledgement of freedom and peace, social justice, reconciliation between nations and human dignity”. I totally just looked that up (on Wikipedia), but I kinda like it.
Traditionally, the first of May however is celebrated as a spring festival with the custom of putting up a may pole in the center of town and a night of “dancing into May” on April, 30 (and then nursing the hangover on May Day).
May poles can look very different depending on the region. Most poles in the area that I come from look something like this: a very tall pole painted in the local colors and decorated with a big wreath with colorful streamers.
Sometimes there are multiple wreathes in different sizes and sometimes (especially in Bavaria) the poles are decorated with emblems depicting local crafts and industry.
In the Rhineland, where I am from, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a “Maibaum” (a tree or tree branch – usually birch trees – covered in colorful streamers or a heart made out of crepe flowers with the girl’s name or initials) to a girl’s house the night before. It’s usually from an admirer or boyfriend and it’s put on the roof, next to a window or next to the entrance door. You see them all over the city. It’s lovely.
The Maibaum remains in place until the end of the month when the guy who put it up needs to come and get it. Usually he gets some sort of a reward, a case of beer from the girl’s dad and – if he’s not the boyfriend yet – possibly a date with the girl. Those are very loose rules, however. While I mostly got a Maibaum from the same guy (my then-boyfriend), my sister had more admirers and it was fun to figure out who put them up!
Sometimes, after partying, we girls would stay up and try to find out who would come by and put up the Maibaum at our house. It’s a little bit like the Valentine’s tradition here, just with a little bit more effort involved on the guys’ part, cutting tree branches, decorating them, and climbing roof tops and whatnot.
There is going to be a Maifest (May festival) at the local German Club next weekend. As always, there will be ladies in Dirndl dresses and men in Lederhosen dancing around the may pole. Keeping the stereotypes alive since 1854! Hehe.
If you’re German, are may poles part of your tradition in the area where you grew up?
If you’re not German, have you heard of this tradition or
is there something similar where you live?