The 1st of May in Germany is a public holiday called “May Day”, basically the equivalent of Labor Day in the States, except they celebrate it a whole lot better than we do! It’s treated like a Sunday where there is no school or work, and all shops, stores and most restaurants are closed. The night before is a popular party night “Tanz in den Mai” (literally “Dance into May”), and all of the clubs and bars have parties to celebrate. In Bavaria, May 1st is celebrated in all the towns by having a festival where the Maibaum (May pole) is raised up. Everyone wears their Lederhosen and Dirndls (the traditional Bavarian outfits), Bavarian bands play music, traditional Bavarian food and beer is served, the kids put on performances of songs and dances, and everyone watches as the men and boys raise the Maibaum.
I went with a friend this year to the nearby town of Prien to watch the Maibaumaufstellen (May pole raising). We snagged a table in the sunshine, ate some delicious pork dish (schweinsbraten) with potato salad and drank some Radlers as we watched the Maypole go up. (A Radler is a popular Bavarian beverage combining a light beer or white beer and a lemon-lime flavored soda. It’s very refreshing and delicious).
The process took about an hour and a half or so, and we didn’t watch the whole thing, but it was really cool watching the men in action (especially since they wear Lederhosen… why are men in lederhosen so attractive??) The pole is so huge and they start with it completely horizontal on the ground. The entire thing is done by hand (many hands!) They have to do it step by step, very slowly. After a portion is raised, they move their raising devices (I’m sure there is a more official name) down the pole a little bit, take a pause, then raise again on the command of the guy in charge. Once the pole is completely standing up, they fasten it down and then it is decorated.
The Maypole stays up for a few years, so each town doesn’t actually have a May Day festival every year. It goes in a sort of rotation, so there is always one nearby. This year my town did not have one (that’s why we went to Prien), but instead the local elementary school held a May Fest today, a week later, so our town could still ring in May together. It was basically the exact same thing, but on a smaller scale and without the Maibaumaufstellen. The kids put on some precious performances and food and drinks were served. I recently bought a dirndl, so it was my first opportunity to join in with the Bavarians in wearing their traditional dress! My favorite part was watching the kids do the traditional Bavarian dances… they were so cute.
A fellow American blogger here in Bavaria, Stephen, wrote a post about his experience on May Day this year. He has some better details about how the Maypole is actually raised, so check out his post, too! (here)
I had a great time participating in my first May Day and I look forward to many more Bavarian festivals this year. Tomorrow is randomly another public holiday. I think it’s a religious holiday but I actually have no idea. I only know that I don’t have to work and neither do my friends! The US really could learn a thing or two from Germany about taking time off—they definitely do it right over here!