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April 30, 2013

Mayday, Mayday

Filed under: Germany — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 5:00 pm
Dancing around the Maypole in Buchenberg, Germany

Dancing around the Maypole in Buchenberg, Germany

The term Mayday is an international radiotelephone signal word used by aircraft and ships in distress, according to the Online Dictionary. The term comes from the French term venez m’aider, meaning “Come help me.”

Mayday in Germany, and in German-American communities in the USA, also means a celebration of Spring.  According to tradition, the first person (of the opposite sex) that you see on Mayday is your true love.

The photo above shows both male and female dancers dancing around a Maypole, but it is usually young girls who dance around a pole on the first day of May in America.  This custom used to be followed religiously in German-American communities in America, but today — not so much.

Two holidays occur on May 1st in Germany, and the Germans celebrate them both. May Day has been a nationwide holiday in Germany since 1919, when the German National Assembly declared it to be a holiday to honor working men and women. It is also widely celebrated in Germany as a rite of spring, with music, dancing and maypoles.  The May Day traditional celebration goes back to the Wiccan holiday Beltane, which was a celebration of Spring.

Muttertag is the German celebration of May 1st, which features dancing around a Maypole.  Over 120 years ago, America inspired the celebration of labor on May Day.  The European Labor Day began in 1890 as a sympathy gesture for striking Americans in Chicago.  Dancing around the Maypole goes back quite a bit farther.

To dance around a Maypole, the dancers walk around a tall pole, clutching a rainbow of colored ribbons.  An outer circle of dancers moves clockwise while an inner circle dances in the opposite direction.  At the start, the dancers stretch their ribbons far away from the center, but move closer as the colors wrap around the pole.  In synch with each other, and the music, the circles then change direction and unwind themselves.

The German Maypole custom goes back to pre-Christian celebrations of spring.  Beginning with the Equinox in March and April, German tribes used to celebrate the new life and fertility of the season.  Trees received a particular reverence during these rituals.  Dancing around them became the precedent for the Maypole.

Young girls dancing around a Maypole

Young girls dancing around a Maypole

In Germany, the Maypole is left up for at least a month.  I took the photos below on a trip to Germany and a trip to Austria.

A Maypole in the town square in Linz, Austria

A Maypole in the town square in Linz, Austria

Maypole in the town square of Geseke, Germany

Maypole in the town square of Geseke, Germany


  1. You article is incorrect. Beltane was a pagan Gaelic-Celtic holiday that was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Beltane is NOT WICCAN, though many wiccans celebrate it. in Germanic countries, May Day comes from the celebration of Saint Walpurga. In Germany it is called Walpurgisnacht. Wicca is not an ancient religion, nor is it the ancient religion of Europeans, it is a recent invention made up of a collection of European folk practices and magical customs combined with middle-eastern ceremonial magic. Please correct this misinformation.

    Comment by Allison Laster — July 30, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

  2. I especially liked the title of this post.

    Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — May 5, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

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