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The custom of the Maibaum (Maypole) • European Delicacies, Tradition & Journey©

Maibaum, May pole Bad Reichenhall
Maibaum, May pole Bad Reichenhall

A town festival with traditional folk dances and a band playing followed. There were performances by children in traditional Tracht with Dirndl and Lederhosen, that should not be missed.

A Maibaum is a decorated tree or tree trunk. According to an old custom, this is set up either on May 1, depending on the region. In many areas, especially in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Austria, the tree trunk is solemnly erected on the village square.

Maibaum raising in Bad Reichenhall
Maibaum raising in Bad Reichenhall

The tree is usually crowned at the upper end by a wreath and the green top of the tree. This is either felled anew every year or the same trunk is used over several years, in which case only the crown is replaced.

The origin of the maypole and its customs is disputed. Presumably, its origin lies with the ancient Germanic tribes and their worship of various forest deities. In this context, the Danube Oak, revered by the Germanic people was dedicated to the God Donar or Thor and stood near Geismar (northern Hesse). According to legend it was felled by St. Bonface.

Maibaum, maypole in Wuerzburg
Maibaum in my hometown Würzburg (Photo by Peter Schuhmann)

As it has happened with many Pagan and Christian traditions, the custom with the Maibaum has been varied over the centuries. According to a traditional report from the Eifel region, there was a Pentecost tree in some places in the 13th century. Even today in Thuringia, a so-called “Maien” is still set at Pentecost in many places. In addition, the maypole is also referred to as the “Marienbaum” in some areas.

Maibaum, maypole

The current shape of the Maibaum, a tall trunk with a green top and wreath, has been handed down since the 16th century. From the 19th century onwards, it also appeared as a local Maibaum for the independent communities and a sign of their self-confidence. In the course of time, however, a strongly local custom has emerged, which often differs considerably from village to village.

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