As spring blooms in Bavaria, chances are you’ve seen a large, decorated pole pop up in your marktplatz or somewhere in your village. But what is Maypole Day, and how can you celebrate as an American living in Germany? Easy – protect the Maibaum and drink beer!
About the May 1st Holiday
Maypole Day or “Mayday” has been a huge spring celebration in Germany since the 13th century. In German folklore, witches and spirits gather and celebrate on April 30, also known as Walpurgisnacht or Hexennacht. Townsfolk would burn bonfires and dance to scare them away.
Today, cities decorate the Maypole (Maibaum) with ribbons, trade signs, and wreaths. Raising the Maibaum usually takes place on April 30 in order to celebrate the festivities on May 1. Because it wouldn’t be a Bavarian tradition without a fest!
Frequently Asked Questions About The Mayday Festival
Most towns in the U.S. don’t celebrate the May 1st holiday like the Germans, but you should definitely attend your local Maifest!
Like most fests, you’ll find sausages and pretzels as the standard snacks. But they also brew a Maibock beer for the occasion! It’s a darker, heavier style, which also means more alcohol.
Yes! While it will always be decorated with ribbons and wreaths, some towns also decorate their Zunftbaum as their Maypole. Trade groups can sponsor the tree attached to the Maibaum, and in return, they have a city trade sign attached to the pole.
The city buys the tree and lumber from a local forest owner, or the owner sponsors the Maypole. And usually individuals don’t set up Maypoles for themselves, although there are some traditions where men set up a small Maibaum in the yards of their lovers!
Most are anywhere between 18 to 30 meters tall, which is why it requires around a dozen men to hoist it up!
The Maypole tradition is primarily celebrated throughout Bavaria, although some other regions of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein have Maibäume as well.
Festivities on May Day include drinking, eating, and dancing around the Maypole. But one of the funnier traditions is the pranking.
Cities will guard their Maibäume on April 30 to prevent other cities from stealing them. Because when one city steals another city’s Maypole, they can hold it hostage for all kinds of crazy requests! But usually the victimized cities have to pay the “thieves” in beer – lots of it.
Sometimes you’ll also see a Maibaumkraxler: someone who climbs the Maypole. It can be the person who fixes or decorates the pole once it’s up, but some towns will also host races!
Celebrate Spring at Your Local Maifest!
If you’re living in Germany, I highly recommend attending a local Maifest. But if you miss the May 1 holiday celebrations, you can still celebrate the spring season at Frühlingsfest!