Was ist Das? Der Maibaum – the Maypole

Notes: Sandra Ostrom has offered to be our German liaison. Ariel wrote us a question that maybe some of you have been wondering about too! 

This article is out of our archives in time for this year’s May & Maibaumen. Enjoy!

CONTRIBUTED BY SANDRA OSTROM & ARIEL EISHEN

May Pole collage; germanyja.com

Hi there! Love Germany Ja! We just moved here, so maybe this question has already been asked. We live in Jettenbach (which we just love) and I’ve noticed in every town there is a big pole near the center of town. Each town’s seems a little bit different. I’d love to find out what the purpose/meaning is behind these big ‘ol poles! Thanks!
Ariel Eishen

Sandra Ostrom answers:

The maypole is a tradition that is celebrated almost all over Germany and in many neighboring european countries, although their poles are raised sometimes as late as Pentecost or Midsummer.

The tradition of celebration around erecting a tree/pole can be traced back to Pagan times, with its original meaning lost in the mists of time. Today it mostly represents the beginning of spring.

The maypole is often a straight, wooden pole that is topped by a large wreath which is decorated with symbols representing different trades and wrapped in colorful ribbons. The colors reflect the town’s different guilds or clubs who sponsor the maypole in that year. In Bavaria one will find the maypole wrapped in blue and white, showing off Bavaria’s national colors.

Often it is raised on the eve of May Day – and of course this event is accompanied by beer, wine and delicious food! Once the pole is raised and decorated the “Dance into May” follows – more drink and food and great music until the dawn of May Day.

(Side note: the eve of May Day is also “witches night” in several German regions where usually the youth plays tricks around the village, like “decorating” the trees with toilet paper or hiding broomsticks, doormats and flowerpots. But this is a different story and a different tradition…)

The pole remains standing until the beginning of June, when it is put away until next year. Larger cities, like Munich often keep the maypoles up year-round.

Picture credits:

#1: In Munich by Shannon Craig-McCurdy

#2: In Detwang by Sarah Forte

#3: In Jettenbach by Ariel Eishen

Do you have any questions about German language, culture, food or anything else Deutsche? Send an email to submissions @germanyja.com and we will make sure to get your questions passed on to Sandra. Her answers will be posted here so that we can all learn! Sound good to you? Sounds wunderbar to me!

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