Tag Der Arbeit
May 1st is Tag Der Arbeit, or labor day. It has been a public holiday in Germany since 1919 and is a day where meetings are held, marches take place, and public speeches are given. Most of these activities being organized by trade unions. Many Gemans will take part in the political events, and many more will spend the day relaxing with family, picnicking, or taking part in the many festivals.
Alles neu macht der Mai
In Germany there is a saying, "Alles neu macht der Mai", which means May makes everything new. It is a time of welcoming spring and celebrating the defeat of winter. One of the beautiful symbols of May Day is the Maigloeckechen, or maybells, which bloom during this time. This flower is a symbol of purity and is said to bring luck in love and a return of happiness.
Tanz in den Mai
Tanz in den Mai, or the May dance takes place the evening of April 30th, during Witches Night or Walpurgisnacht. A large bonfire will be built in an attempt to scare away the evil ghosts and spirits. When the fire is nearly out, young couples can jump over the embers while holding hands, making a Maisprung, or a jump into May.
The Maibaum, or Maypole is a tree which will be raised up in the tradition of welcoming Spring. The tree is typically a variety of birch, which is tree associated with new beginnings, and cut down in March. The tree will be removed of all it's branches and cleared so that it can be decorated with fir garlands, flowers, and beautiful colored ribbons. There is a tradition in Germany that some may attempt to steal the Maibaum, and if accomplished, the town has to pay for it's return with a case of wine or beer. Once the pole is erected, there may be a Maypole dance.
The Maypole dance starts with long ribbons attached to a high point on the pole. Each dancer will hold one of the ends of a ribbon. The dancers will circle the pole from far out, ensuring the ribbons are kept taut. The number of dancers should be even, as they will be facing different directions. All dancers move, passing each other, creating a braid of ribbons around the pole.
Observing the Day
If you would like to visit a May celebration, they won't be difficult to find. Most major cities will have large celebrations and smaller villages will have their own. During the celebrations, try a glass of Maibowle, which is a typical May Day drink. It's a wine punch that is a delicious mix of Chardonnay or Riesling, dry champagne, and flavored with sweet woodruff or Waldmeister. It's best served chilled. Have a wonderful day welcoming Spring!