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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

March 9, 2010

The Catholic Church – it’s not what it used to be

On Sunday, I attended Mass at a Catholic Church, the first time in many years.  A family member is dating a girl who says she is “half Catholic.”  I know that the Nazis categorized some people has “half Jews,” but “half Catholic?”  Has the Catholic church changed so much that there are now “half Catholics”?

Anyway, I was happy to see that the largest and oldest Catholic Church in my city still has the original high altar.  In the old days, the priest would say Mass in Latin with his back to the people in the church.  Now the the priest says the mass in English in American churches, and he faces the audience.  Many churches have removed the high altar, since it is no longer used.

For example, the photo below shows a church in the town of Geseke in Germany, which has an empty space where the altar used to be.

Empty space where altar used to be in a Catholic Church

Two years ago, when I visited the church shown above, I was totally shocked to see that, not only had the altar been completely removed, but there were Jewish symbols displayed at a side altar.

Side altar in Catholic church has a menorah and a Star of David

There was never a large Jewish population in Geseke and as far as I know, there were no Jews from the town who died in the Holocaust.  That is what is so shocking about this display. While I was standing in front of this side altar, with my mouth hanging open in disbelief, a woman in the church came up to me and directed my attention to a  hanging sculpture, which is the only thing of beauty left in this church. The statue has two sides; in the photo, the choir loft is shown in the background.

Hanging statue inside St. Peter's Church in Geseke, Germany

St. Peter's Catholic Church in Geseke, Germany

I did a little research to find out if there are churches in America that display a menorah. I learned that there is a menorah in a Catholic Church in Boston; here is a quote from this blog:

In memory of Holocaust victims, Cardinal William Kasper, a top Vatican liaison to the Jewish people, rededicated a menorah at the Boston Archdiocese. He’s calling the menorah a reminder of “a common duty and a common responsibility” to promote peace among religions. The ceremony was held before about 200 people, including rabbis, priests, and Holocaust survivors.

The menorah was originally dedicated in 2002, but moved to a new home after the archdiocese sold its land to pay off debts. The recent dedication was on Wednesday in honor of Yom HaShoah.

I also found this quote on this web site:

More than 500 Jews and Catholics sat together in the pews of the Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe in Dallas to share in the unveiling and lighting of a menorah donated by the Center for Interreligious Understanding (CIU) in Secaucus, N.J.

The menorah, created by Israeli sculptor Aharon Bezalel, is one of 11 being placed in Catholic centers around the United States. The four-foot 380-pound menorah, which depicts men, women and children being led by a tallis-laden rabbi, is a replica of the Yom Hashoah Menorah presented to Pope John Paul II on April 13, 1999, which is on permanent display at the Vatican’s North American College.

Does America have a new religion now, that is half Catholic and half Jewish? Can’t Catholics have their own religion, without Jewish symbols? Does everything have to be about the Holocaust?

The photo below shows the Hall of Remembrance at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC which I think is evocative of the interior of a church.

The Hall of Remembrance at the USHMM in Washington, DC

The eternal flame on a box filled with dirt from 38 camps

The 6,000 square-foot Hall of Remembrance at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC is on the second floor, at the end of the tour of the permanent exhibit. There is a black marble box, filled with dirt from 38 different concentration camps, that is like an altar. The room has 6 sides which represent the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, and the 6-pointed Star of David, which is the Jewish emblem. The Hall is three stories high and there is a 6-sided skylight at the top.