Putting up the maypoles (1st May) is a medieval tradition that continues to this day

The month of May is associated with love, but also with a new beginning and the birth of a new life. May's freshly green nature evokes youth, freshness, and energy. Trees, which have their special position among plants, symbolized the myth of the struggle of spring with winter, or life with death. It has been a Slovak custom since the Middle Ages that boy who liked a girl put up a tree in front of the chosen one's house decorated with colorful ribbons and paper bows – a maypole. But it wasn't always just about love and showing affection, people also put up the maypoles in front of their houses as protection against evil spirits and diseases. May greenery should have brought a good harvest to the farmers. However, putting up the maypoles is not only a Slovak custom, it was spread throughout Central Europe around the 15th century.

Maypole is a several meters high tree, usually, it is a fir, spruce, or birch. Its trunk is cleaned of bark and branches, which are left only at the top of the tree. It is decorated with various ribbons and bows. On the eve of the 1st of May, a young man who liked some unmarried girl secretly placed the maypole in front of her house. Sometimes, when there were more young men interested in one girl, the suitors destroyed each other's maypoles. So, a maypole meant serious interest, while the tree had to be really nice, symmetrical, and nicely decorated. If the maypole is also decorated with a wreath with long ribbons, it should mean that the girl will marry the suitor soon. Maypole with a wreath is therefore a symbol of a love promise. This tradition was accompanied by singing and dancing, which celebrated not only the birth of new love but also the definitive victory of spring over winter.

It is said that different regions have different manners, and therefore this tradition differed in every corner of Slovakia. The decoration, or the type of tree, was different - in the town of Štrba, mostly red spruce or aspen was put up, in Podbiel village it was a pine tree. However, this maypole tradition was everywhere connected with a sprightly festivity, the so-called majales. However, our old customs and traditions are slowly being forgotten. Fortunately, we can find dozens of villages where people still follow the maypole tradition by putting up the maypole in the middle of the village. In large cities, beautifully wreathed maypoles are used to put up symbolically in front of local administration offices or cultural centers, where they stand for the whole month. At the end of May, the maypole is ceremoniously removed during the so-called maypole fall celebration.

Would you like to remember this tradition? On April 28. 2024, the Slovak Village Museum in Martin will organize an interesting event called Love in the Village, where you can see the traditional putting up of the maypole accompanied by folk music and dance ensembles.

Photo from Bardejov: Dušan Michalka