May Day: Dancing ‘Round the Maypole
There are many traditions across the globe to celebrate May 1.
By: Kelli Ballard | May 1, 2022 | 522 Words
May 1 is a popular day. It’s the first of a new month, an international worker’s day, and it is the time people celebrate the beginning of a new season. Known as “May Day,” this holiday is steeped in tradition, dating back thousands of years. Have you ever heard the expression “dancing around the maypole?” This is one of the most popular traditions that some still do even today.
As far back as at least the medieval times, and maybe much earlier, people would gather to dance around the maypole. In smaller towns, villagers would go into the forests or woods to find the perfect maypole that could be set up in the middle of the village. In larger cities, some of the trees were put in place permanently.
The tree was decorated with colorful ribbons and streamers, which the villagers would grab onto and hold as they dance around the pole. The Celts called the festival Beltane, and it was one of the most important days of the year for them. It was thought that this time divided the year in half between the dark and the light.
In Europe, single men might place a birch tree in front of the house of the lady they like. They would decorate it with a red heart with her name inside of it. Another tradition is for people to try and climb the pole, called maypole scrambling.
May Day Around the World
In America, this tradition never really took root because the Puritans associated the festival with paganism. However, there are some places that celebrate it in a more modern way, having fun decorating the pole and dancing.
In Bulgaria, there is no maypole for dancing on May Day; instead, it is a time to ward off the snakes and lizards. To do this, people stay out of the fields to prevent being bitten by the pests and have bonfires to scare them away.
In Finland, May Day is called Vappu. Right up there with Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, it is one of the country’s most important holidays celebrating the end of winter.
Germans do enjoy the maypole dancing and festivities, but they also have a fun time with their secret admirers event. They draw a line from their house to the house of the one they are interested in with chalk. The line isn’t cleaned up and will eventually be washed away by rain. According to the tradition, this chalk line links the couple forever.
In Hawaii, the Lei Queen is chosen on May Day. Her job is to show how well she can hula dance and sing in front of the crowd before she gets the crown for the day.
While there are many traditions around May 1, most seem to have something to do with the changing season and celebrating hope. Do you have any plans for this holiday?