May Tree Celebration or Maibaum Tradition from Germany

9 Aug

One of my favorite things about traveling is learning newer and unique customs / things of the places that I visit. One such unique custom / festival that we learnt about during our Europe trip was the traditional festival of a Maibaum or the May Tree celebration. We came across this festival in Vaals when we were staying with our friends P and J and couldn’t understand what these colorful hanging trees were. It’s then that P and J explained about this festival to us.

A Maibaum that we saw in Fussen

A Maibaum that we saw in Fussen

As a quick background, this festival dates back to the 16th century and is celebrated predominantly in Germany and Austria; and in some other regions of Europe too. Β A “Maibaum” is actually a really tall decorated tree or a tree trunk (without the branches) that is erected on May 1 in the village / town square. This tree is usually painted in blue and white, decorated with ribbons, emblems depicting local crafts and industry and has a small pine tree at the top. Β And since its very local, each town has its own uniquely decorated tree. Many towns also have a big festival around it that includes a procession, bands, singing, dancing, food, drinks and a lot of merry fun.

A colorful Maibaum

A colorful Maibaum for a sweetheart πŸ™‚

However the best part of this festival is the celebration / proclamation of Love. Any young guy who likes another girl gets a tree (from the forest / market) and decorates it with colored ribbons and other decorations. Β After that he attaches a red heart-shaped note with the name of the girl written on it and then puts this “Maibaum” on the top of her roof in the middle of the night. He then leaves it for a month and post that returns to take it down. If the girl likes him then she invites him for a date or a kiss but if she doesn’t like him, then its just bad luck and means nothing for him.

Another one :)

Another one πŸ™‚

Now I was quite intrigued about the origins of this festival and hence read several online articles on it. They mentioned that this festival is speculated to originally have had some importance in the Germanic pagan tradition of Iron Age and early Medieval cultures that survived Christianization. And per this website – the symbolism of this has been a cause of debate for centuries and some scholars classify them as symbols of the world axis (axis mundi). Β One theory also holds that they are a remnant of the Germanic reverence for sacred trees, as there is evidence for various sacred trees and wooden pillars that were venerated by the pagans across much of Germanic Europe, including Thor’s Oak and the Irminsul. It is also known that, in Norse paganism, which is the best attested form of Germanic paganism, cosmological views held that the universe was a world tree, known as Yggdrasil. There is therefore speculation that the maypole was in some way a continuance of this tradition.

Well, whatever its origin or history, we loved the sight of these colorful Maibaums hanging on houses all around in Germany. Though I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if these traditions had to be followed in the sky-rises of Mumbai πŸ™‚

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7 Responses to “May Tree Celebration or Maibaum Tradition from Germany”

  1. corneliaweberphotography August 10, 2013 at 06:29 #

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I am from Germany actually my hometown is Munich in Bavaria ( immigrating over to the US 23 years ago), so I grew up with this wonderful tradition in the little villages. The other tradition is the dance around the “Maibaum”, well mostly young people dressed in their folkloric outfits and bands playing typical Bavarian or Austrian music. Yes and beers from big barrels flows easily!! You just brought back some childhood memories. Thank you for sharing, Cornelia

    Like

    • getsetandgo August 10, 2013 at 22:40 #

      Thanks for the kind words πŸ™‚ I didn’t see the people dancing in traditional outfits but will definitely try and be in Bavaria on the next May 1 to see that πŸ™‚

      Like

  2. travelsofayorkshiregirl August 12, 2013 at 18:53 #

    I was in Berlin not long ago but didn’t see any of these, I wish I had though they are so eccentric- brighten up a dull day πŸ™‚

    Like

    • getsetandgo August 13, 2013 at 21:16 #

      This is more prevalent in small towns and especially in the Bavaria region only on May 1.

      Like

      • travelsofayorkshiregirl August 13, 2013 at 21:33 #

        It’s a brilliant idea, shame we don’t have anything quirky like this in England!

        Like

      • getsetandgo August 13, 2013 at 21:44 #

        Neither do we have it in India πŸ™‚ I would have loved to get a maibaum πŸ™‚

        Like

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