From Academic Kids

For the web development framework by the same name, see Maypole framework.

Missing image
Dancing around the maypole, in Åmmeberg, Sweden

The maypole is a tall wooden pole (traditionally of hawthorn or birch), with several long coloured ribbons suspended from the top. The top of the Maypole is often festooned with flowers and greenery.

It appeared in most Germanic countries, and is especially popular in Germany, Austria for the May festivities, as well as in Sweden during the Midsummer festivities . In the United Kingdom it plays a key role in many May Day and Beltane festivities and rites. It also remains popular in the Czech Republic and coastal regions of Finland, including the Åland islands and the archipelago.

In Sweden it appears in many varieties, the most common being a cross with two rings hanging from the "arms".

The Maypole as a simple pole is several centuries old in the United Kingdom, but the addition of ribbons is an invention of John Ruskin in the 19th century. Pairs of boys and girls (or men and women) stand alternately around the base of the pole, each holding the end of a ribbon. They weave in and around each other, boys going one way and girls going the other and the ribbons are woven together around the pole until the merry-makers meet at the base. There are also more complex dances for set numbers of (practised) dancers, involving complicated weaves and un-weaves, but they're not much known today.

Sometimes a crown of flowers is placed on top of the maypole, supported by the ribbons, so that it gradually descends the pole as the ribbons are woven together, finally falling to the ground.

Today maypole dances are often done without dividing the participants by gender, simply having them in pairs facing one another so half go one way and half go the other. This weaving of the Maypole is considered by some to be a magickal act.

In Sweden similar traditions were once observed but today the pole is the centre of traditional ring dances, the songs being more or less the same as during the dances around the Christmas tree.

The Maypole is often considered a phallic symbol, but its origin may be the Saxon Irminsul that connects heaven and earth. In Sweden, the pole is popularly identified with the male sex and the rings with the female.

The Maypole is usually erected on a village green, and events are often supervised by local Morris dancing groups. In Sweden it is usually arranged by the local traditions groups.

The maypole (majka or maj) is also still popular in the Czech Republic, in country villages. Villages compete to get taller maypoles than their neighbors, and during the night the youths of a village guard the maypole to keep ruffians from neighboring villages from knocking it over (while at the same time attempting forays into neighboring villages to knock over the maypoles of others). A fair amount of alcohol — and a good time — is generally had by all.

See also

de:Maibaum eo:Majoarbo nl:Maypole


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