If you are thinking of taking a trip to Germany, you will have an excellent experience if you time your journey to coincide with Maifest.
Maifest is celebrated on May 1, and it marks a time when we can leave the cold of winter behind us. The tradition dates back to Pagan times. Although the celebrations have changed over time, many have stayed the same. Maibaums are still erected and there are plenty of wreaths, ribbons, streamers and dancing.
Read on to find out more about this event and what you can expect if you’re in town to check it out.
What is Maifest?
Maifest happens on May 1, and it celebrates the arrival of spring.
Early Germans called May Wunnimanoth which translates to pasture month. It marks a time of animals returning to the pastures after a cold winter.
The Pagans saw it as a time of celebration and saying goodbye to the winter’s cold and darkness.
Today, Maifest is celebrated as a secular celebration. People pay homage to the spring by decorating their cities and villages with ribbons and flowers.
In Rhineland, it’s a tradition for young men to tie ribbons in the garden of the girl he fancies. On leap year, it is the girl’s chance to tie ribbons in the garden of the boy she fancies.
Most towns will erect a Maibaum or May Pole to mark the occasion. Bonfires are lit to chase the darkness and dances are danced. Special food and drinks are served including a strong spring beer called Maibock and a wine punch called Waldmeister.
While May 1 is the main day of celebration, some people start as early as April 30 with Walpurgisnacht, a witch’s gathering that takes place on the Brocken in the Harz Mountains.
What is the Maibaum?
The erecting of the Maibaum or Maypole dates back to the 10th century. Young men from the village would go to the woods and find a tall tree and strip it of its branches and leaves. Then they would haul it to town and decorate it.
Craftsman carved shields and symbols that represent local guilds and clubs are added and a wreath is placed on the top with long ribbons tied to it. The Maibaum must be guarded because people in other villages may try to steal it. But they can usually be paid off to leave it alone with the right food and drinks!
The Maibaum is erected in the center town square or marketplace. In some villages, the local Schtuzenverien (shooting club) will wake up the entire town with cannon or gunfire. Once the Maibaum is secure, the celebrations can begin.
How to Celebrate Maifest
Maifest became a German National Holiday in 1933. Since then, it has taken on new meaning. While it still recognizes the beginning of spring, it is also considered International Worker’s Day. As such, Union and Political groups may hold private events on the day.
When May 1 rolls around, people honor the day by dancing around the Maibaum. In smaller villages, the entire community may get in on the action. Bonfires are burned and special foods and drinks are served. Maibock is a beer brewed especially for Maifest and a champagne punch called Maibowl is served.
Fraue Holle and Maifest
Frau Holle is a fairy tale character associated with Maifest. It is said that after a long winter, she goes to her home on Walpurgistnacht and does spring cleaning. This includes cleaning her floors, scrubbing fireplace soot from her walls and freshening all her rooms so her home is ready when the spring goddess comes by.
If you don’t do your spring cleaning, Frau Holle may shake her feature beds and make it snow.
Spring is a joyous time of year. To make the most of it, be sure to travel to Germany in time for Maifest. It will provide you with an experience you will cherish for some time to come.