Thursday, May 1, 2014

Happy May Day

In the wondrous month of May,
When all buds were bursting into bloom,
Then it was that in my heart
love began to blossom.

In the wondrous month of May,
When all birds were singing

Then it was I confessed to her
my longing and desire.

By Heinrich Heine (1779-1856)

Translation by Richard Stokes, The Book of Lieder

The beginning of May is celebration of fertility. Nature wakes up after a long, cold winter and it is no wonder that people are ready to celebrate. 

There is an old tradition in Germany that goes back to the 16th century: The Maypole. People all over the country decorate a tree trunk or a pole and erect it on a village green or in the center of a town. The maypole is usually erected on the last day of April and the ceremony is often preceded by a joyful procession and followed by a dance around the pole. 

The origins of maypole are unknown but researchers speculate that the custom might date back to the pre-Christian era. It probably had some religious importance to the Germanic pagan tribes. The tradition survived Christianization, but most certainly lost its original meaning. 

The symbolism of the maypole is debated by ethnologists but it is often assumed that the pole symbolizes axis mundi or the cosmic axis, or may simply be expression of the ancient Germanic veneration of trees. 

Modern Germans celebrate the May Day with picnics, dances and bonfires. This is a perfect time to leave the old ballast behind and gather in exuberant mood with friends and family. 

Happy May Day!

By Dominique Allmon

Images source here