As we were driving one day in early May, I was surprised to find a very tall Christmas tree colorfully decorated in red and yellow erected on a large pole in the middle of a district center. I asked J.P. about it who looked at me in disbelief as to why I thought a Christmas tree would be up in May. He then informed me that it was not a Christmas tree but a “Maibaum” or maypole in English. I had heard of maypoles before, but had never seen one and didn’t know what they represented. J.P. informed me that in many areas in Germany maypoles are erected in a district’s city square on May 1st to celebrate the return of summer and that they stay up for the entire month of May. So you can imagine how excited I was to see a sign for a Maypole festival. J.P. cautioned me to contain my excitement as he though it would be a small festival, but I still wanted to go.
The maypoles I have seen in Stuttgart have only been decorated in red and yellow, while maypoles in Bavaria are decorated in white and blue - the Bavarian state's colors.
And it turns out there is more to the maypole than just the return of summer, but no one can agree exactly what that is. Maypoles have been found in Germany since the 16th century, but date back to the 10th and 11th century to paganism in the Iron Ages, so perhaps the maypole is a pagan symbol?
The Maypole Festival in Weilimdorf, Stuttgart.
Other scholars debate that the maypole is a symbol for the world axis. Or perhaps the maypole was a Germanic reverence for sacred trees.Or my personal favorite, that the maypole is a phallic symbol to worship Priapus, a minor Roman God of fertility who always had an erect xxx(I’ll let you fill in the blank). Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Sigmund Freud was a supporter of this theory. Adding more fuel to this theory is that May is the most common month for Germans to get married. Yet, maybe the answer is simpler than that. Maybe the maypole is simply just a part of the merriment of the return of summer – no further explanation needed, as some scholars believe.
A blue and white maypole in Munich, the Bavarian state colors. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
When we arrived to the Maypole Celebration taking place in Weilimdorf (an area in Stuttgart) the festivities were in full swing. Despite being a small festival, there was a band and beer gardens, serving what else but sausages and pretzels.
Th Weilimdorf Maypole Festival appeared to be sponsored or put on by the Fire Department as fire trucks were everywhere. Even the games had a fire department theme to them:
The Fire Department hosted games using fire hoses for older children as part of the Weilimdorf Maypole Festival.
And rides using fire truck ladders for smaller children. All part of the Maypole celebrations in Weilimdorf.
The Weilimdorf Maypole Celebration was a small one, as J.P. had predicted, and even though we missed the traditional maypole dance, I still enjoyed it. It was a hot sunny day – perfect for a celebration of summer’s return and everyone was in a good mood. Perhaps the simplest explanation of the maypole is the correct one, that it is simply just part of the celebration of the return of summer.
Have you been to a Maypole Celebration before? What color was the maypole?
For those living in Stuttgart and wanting to see a maypole, I’ve seen them in Feuerbach and Weilimdorf, although I’m sure they’re in other locations as well, but hurry, they’ll just be up until the end of May.