The Bavarian Maibaum: A 16th Century Tradition

Erected in towns throughout Bavaria, the maibaum, or maypole, is meant to symbolize the independence, strength and community of a town. A long-standing tradition and closely governed by local regulations, the maibaum has to have a height of at least 30 meters and can only stand for a maximum of 5 years. Once a tree is selected, it is carefully cut and decorated, which typically entails painting it with the Bavarian colors of blue and white, painting and attaching carved wooden symbols representing services, craftsmen and trade guilds in the town and affixing a fir wreath around the top of the pole. The maibaum is erected amid a large festive gathering on the eve of May 1st. Local men from the town, wearing traditional dress, will use their strength and long sticks to raise the pole to a vertical position. Prior to the celebration the pole has to be carefully guarded 24 hours a day as there is an ongoing tradition of neighboring towns to try to steal each other’s maypoles. If the pole is successfully captured then its return must be negotiated for in exchange for free beer and food.

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