The Maypole

The maypole (“Maibaum”, which stands for “May tree” in German) is a tall and decorated tree or tree stem, usually put upright on May 1st or the night before. In Bavaria, it generally is set up during popular festivities on the central place of a village. The stems are usually peeled and decorated with multi-colored garlands of crepe paper or pine twigs. 

A “correctly” tied pole – according to Bavarian tradition – needs to show a blue-and-white spiral turning from bottom left to top right. In Franconia (Northern Bavaria) the stems are generally striped in white and red. The maypole remains standing – depending on the local tradition – until the end of the month. At that point, the stem is taken back down and stored until the next year. 

The challenge lies in protecting the tree not to be stolen! The night before the setting up of the maypole, men from the village guard it. If their competitors from the neighbouring village manage to distract them enough to put 3 cuts of a spade on the stem, it is considered stolen. The tree is then marked with a sign to explain the situation and is put up next to the “thieves’ ” tree. 

In several regions the maypole is considered stolen only if it is laid down or even removed from its original site. A common rule though says that only men whose village put up its own tree may attempt to steal another one.