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Posts Tagged ‘pagan’

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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