Celebrating May Day

May Day in Germany is also know as the Tag der Arbeit, or Labour Day, and is a national holiday to celebrate workers. It is observed by holding meetings, marches and giving public speeches, mostly organized by trade unions. In Berlin, particularly in the Kreuzberg district, it has been marked by sometimes violent demonstrations. For over two decades, the much-anticipated ritual has seen the city erupt in leftist protests, street parties and open-air raves (The Myfest). Much of this revolutionary attitude was born out of the historic events on May 1, 1987 during which protesters clashed with police, overturned a police van and set fires. You can watch a video about the day here.

mage Nico Roicke, Unsplash

“Today, the atmosphere is subdued in comparison, however, there is still an energy of rebellion, violent protest and anti-establishment in the air.” The Myfest normally takes place in Gorlitzer Park and surroundings, and is more of a party atmosphere, but it is sure to be cancelled this year due to Coronavirus.

A much more pleasant tradition for the family and children, is the Maypole, in which a pole is erected and the children dance around it holding ribbons which are affixed to a ring at the top. As they dance the ribbons are interwoven. There is an even number of dancers, facing alternatively clockwise and counterclockwise. All dancers move in the direction they are facing, passing right shoulders with the next, and so on around to braid the ribbons over-and-under around the pole. it is a major symbol of spring’s reawakening of fruitfulness. You can watch a video of the dance here: Maypole Dance.

In Bavaria May 1st is an especially important day. In Bavarian villages, it has been the custom for centuries to cut a tall and straight tree, a day or two before May 1, place it in the middle of the village and decorate it with a wreath of spring flowers and colorful ribbons. One of the traditions is to attempt to steal the Maypole of the neighboring village the night before, and to hold it for ransom, usually a couple kegs of beer and some traditional food. At the same time villagers have to make sure that their Maypole is not stolen by their neighbors.

Photo by Jan Kopřiva on Unsplash

Another Bavarian tradition is the Maibaumkraxeln (Maypole climbing) contest. In many parts of Bavaria guys battle to see who can climb up the shaven and polished tree trunk the fastest, a task made even tougher by soaping down the Maypole, so that climbers only succeed if they smear ashes, tree sap or pitch on their hands. The goal is to win the Brezeln und Wuerste (pretzels and sausages) that hang on top of the pole, and to impress the girls down in the crowd. Beginners climb carefully, gradually and in spurts. Veterans will grab a hold of the tree between hands and feet and climb right up. These are trees, 15 m (46 ft.) high, without branches, no bark, and slick as a grease pan!

Backwoods Mama has a great wonderful about how to celebrate May Day outdoors with your kids including making a wreath, doing a scavenger hunt, having a picnic, planting seeds, and reading books about Springtime, with a great list of book recommendations:

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