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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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). 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 🙂