In May, many villages in the canton of Basel-Landschaft experience a colorful rival to the bright spring flowers – the maypole or maypoles. Decorated with colorful ribbons, they adorn the village fountains and lend the scenery a festive atmosphere.
The tradition of putting up the maypole usually takes place on the eve of May 1st and is accompanied by May Day celebrations with music and singing. According to folklorist Eduard Strübin, this custom of putting up the maypole is a special feature of the Basel-Country and can still be found in the canton of Schaffhausen and in some parts of Germany.
Originally, maypole planting was a pagan spring custom. The chosen tree, often a fir, symbolizes fertility and freedom. The straight growth of the tree is seen as a sign of strength and steadfastness.
While the tradition of maypoles had almost disappeared in the 19th century, it experienced a revival in the 20th century. This could be explained by an increased interest in traditional and regional customs as a counter-movement to the changes brought about by new media and technologies. The renaissance of the maypole helps to preserve and celebrate local identity and customs.
The placing of the maypole has different meanings in different cultures, but they often revolve around themes such as fertility, community and nature. Here are some of the most common meanings of the maypole:
Early spring and nature celebration:
May marks the transition from winter to spring and the maypole is often seen as a celebration of the reawakening of nature and new beginnings. The decorated tree symbolizes the awakening of the plant world after winter.
Fertility and vitality:
The upright, growing tree symbolizes fertility and life. This is often linked to the aspects of closeness to nature and the continuity of the community.
Video Raising the Maypole with muscle power.