Written by Stepan Zoubek and Alzbeta Zvonarova
Learn more about Czech Maypole Majka
May First is usually known as Labor Day or in some countries a day of love and lovers. The Czech Republic is one country that observes this tradition. May is often understood to be a month of love however it comes hand in hand with the tradition of burning witches or erecting maypoles. The maypole tradition goes back to the first written mention in the 13th century. It is believed to come from an old pagan rite of Spring. They are to welcome spring and celebrate youth, fertility, and love. This tradition is still fairly popular across all the Czech Republic.
The Maypole which was sometimes called “the king” is erected in many Czech villages and towns and was often connected with fairs/festivals and folk dances in traditional costumes. According to tradition, the maypole can be prepared only by single young men. They would go to the woods on or before the eve of April 30th to find the tallest spruce, pine or fir tree. They cut the tree removing all the branches and bark except for a meter or more at the top. In the meantime girls in the village made a wreath decorated with flowers. The wreath was hung beneath the top of the maypole. After the maypole was erected young people from the village danced under it and celebrated. The maypole is to be guarded all night as sometimes men from the neighboring village will try to steal or cut it down Having your maypole stolen/cut down is a great disgrace and it would mean that the village couldn’t celebrate at the end of the month when maypole is taken down and the wreath is auctioned. In one village a father gave a group of young boys 30 liters of Slivovitz ( about 7.4 gal of plum liquor) for cutting down the neighboring village’s Maypole. Many young men of the village made smaller ones from birch and put them in front of their girlfriend’s houses. Some Fathers would pay to have one erected in front of his home when his daughter was of an age to have a boyfriend and to be married.
The tradition differs from region to region. In Sumava, it was a tradition that girls in carts were raced to the maypole. Another place, a girl, and boy were randomly selected to stay together for the year. A village might choose a “May Queen” wearing a kroj, and she would walk through the village leading a parade. One of the old traditions is the “pouring paths” when hearts were drawn on the gates of two lovers and connecting them with a path created from slaked lime mixed with water.
The tradition of maypoles has lost some of its popularity in some parts of the Czech Republic. The stealing or damaging of maypoles in a neighboring village is illegal as it is municipal property and you can recieve a fine. Erecting a maypole is not the privilege of young single men anymore, as big cities often pay professionals to do that. Girls and boys are not forced to stay together for a year as for the Sumava girls racing in carts is a thing of the past. In Moravia, the traditional way of celebrating May is with folk costumes and dancing under the Maypole.
The reasons for celebrating The First of May has changed however a maypole it is a great way to celebrate love and is definitely worthy of keeping.