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Posts Tagged ‘maypole’

Photo: Library of Congress.
Maypole dancers at the Bavarian Celebration of Spring festival in Leavenworth, Washington.

Since 1889, May 1 has been recognized as International Workers’ Day around the world. But a much more ancient May 1 tradition involves dancing around “maypoles” to celebrate spring.

According to Wikipedia, maypole “festivals may occur on May 1st or Pentecost (Whitsun), although in some countries it is instead erected at Midsummer (June 20-26). In some cases the maypole is a permanent feature that is only utilized during the festival, although in other cases it is erected specifically for the purpose before being taken down again.

“Primarily found within the nations of Germanic Europe and the neighboring areas which they have influenced, its origins remain unknown. It has often been speculated that the maypole originally had some importance in the Germanic paganism of Iron Age and early Medieval cultures, and that the tradition survived Christianisation, albeit losing any original meaning that it had. It has been a recorded practice in many parts of Europe throughout the Medieval and Early Modern periods, although it became less popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, the tradition is still observed in some parts of Europe and among European communities in the Americas.”

Olivia Waring and Jack Slater offer more details at Metro. “As today is the first of May, communities across the world might be getting on their sunny day best and heading to dance around a maypole – a tradition which is around 600 years old. But what does dancing around a maypole on May 1 involve, and what does it represent? Here’s all you need to know.

“Dancing around a maypole involves a group of people taking a colored ribbon attached to it and weaving around each other, often to music. Traditionally the dancers position themselves in pairs of boys and girls before beginning their routine.

“The dance creates a multi-colored pattern which creeps steadily down the pole. The dancers then reverse their steps to undo the ribbons. This is said to represent the lengthening of the days as summer approaches, but the significance of the pole itself is not really known. Some communities have a permanent maypole up all year round on village greens and in squares. …

“In Austria and Germany, the maypole is known as a ‘maibaum’, is painted with Bavarian white and blue stripes and is erected (sometimes by villagers) in the middle of a village. This may be accompanied by a procession. …

“Though not always held on May 1, maypole celebrations also happen in the States, Malta, Scandinavia, Canada, and Italy – with Italians using the pole to celebrate International Worker’s Day, too. In other countries, including Sweden, a maypole is referred to as a Midsummer pole and is a part of their annual Midsummer celebrations in late June.”

Watch the video below to see how the weaving works. Trust me: it takes many rehearsals to get those ribbons to lie flat and smooth. More at Wikipedia, here, and at Metro, here.

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Photos: Lebrecht Music & Arts / Alamy Stock; Getty/whitemay
Unlike the Puritans he lived among, Thomas Morton loved nature, local tribes, and pagan traditions like dancing around the maypole. The Puritans banned a book book he wrote — the first banned book in America. 

Today we joke about Boston and its “Banned in Boston” moniker. We criticize other communities that ban books they believe threaten local morals. People have always tried to address threats they believe are posed by certain ideas. Even now we argue about the best way to keep fake news off social media. But who is to decide? I hope we don’t think government officials — whether they’re currently the ones we voted for or not —  are capable of deciding.

Let’s take a look at an old controversy over America’s first banned book.

Matthew Taub writes at Atlas Obscura, “Apparently, Thomas Morton didn’t get the memo. The English businessman arrived in Massachusetts in 1624 with the Puritans, but he wasn’t exactly on board with the strict, insular, and pious society they had hoped to build for themselves.

“ ‘He was very much a dandy and a playboy,’ says William Heath, a retired professor from Mount Saint Mary’s University who has published extensively on the Puritans. …

“Within just a few short years, Morton established his own unrecognized offshoot of the Plymouth Colony, in what is now the town of Quincy, Massachusetts (the birthplace of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams). He revived forbidden old-world customs, faced off with a Puritan militia determined to quash his pagan festivals, and wound up in exile.

“He eventually sued and, like any savvy rabble-rouser should, got a book deal out of the whole affair. Published in 1637, his New English Canaan mounted a harsh and heretical critique of Puritan customs and power structures that went far beyond what most New English settlers could accept. So they banned it — making it likely the first book explicitly banned in what is now the United States. …

“The Puritans’ move across the ‘pond’ was motivated by both religion and commerce, but Morton was there only for the latter reason, as one of the owners of the Wollaston Company. He loved what he saw of his new surroundings, later writing that Massachusetts was the ‘masterpiece of nature.’ His business partner — slave-owning Richard Wollaston — moved south to Virginia to expand the company’s business, but Morton was already deeply attached to the land. …

‘He was extremely responsive to the natural world and had very friendly relations with the Indians,’ says Heath, while ‘the Puritans took the opposite stance: that the natural world was a howling wilderness, and the Indians were wild men that needed to be suppressed.’

“After Wollaston left, Morton enlisted the help of some brave recruits — both English and Native — to establish the breakoff settlement of Ma-Re Mount, also known as Merrymount. …

“The Puritan authorities didn’t see Merrymount as a free-wheeling annoyance; they saw an existential threat. The problem wasn’t only that Morton was taking goods and commerce away from Plymouth, but that he was giving that business to the Native Americans, including trading guns to the Algonquins.

“With Plymouth’s monopoly dissolved and its perceived enemies armed, Morton had perhaps done more than anyone else to undermine the Puritan project in Massachusetts. Worse yet, in the words of Plymouth’s governor William Bradford, Morton condoned ‘dancing and frisking together’ with the Native Americans . … Governor Bradford nicknamed Morton the ‘Lord of Misrule.’

“There could be no greater symbol of such misrule than Morton’s maypole. … Throughout medieval Europe, maypoles had been a popular installation for May Day (or Pentecost or midsummer, in some regions) — encouraging human fertility as the land itself sprung up from winter. Now that was a tradition that Morton could get behind, and he gladly called upon the residents of Merrymount to drink, dance, and frolic around the pole. The establishment of Merrymount had been a provocation, but Morton’s May Day celebrations meant war.”

What happened next? Find out at Atlas Obscura, here.

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Photo: Bryn Mawr College

Happy May Day, the old-fashioned kind that involves surprise flowers and dancing around the May Pole.

This year’s came in like a lion, with icy rain, and is going out like a lamb. Spring can’t be stopped now.

Here are a few photos of the season.

Congress-St-flower-boxes

mottled-tree-by-train-stop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

pine-branches

May-Day-basket

 

 

 

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