The tradition of the maypole (or maibaum) dates back centuries in German history. The symbolism and meaning behind the raising of the maypole varies depending on the source, and if you do an internet search you’ll find all sorts of explanations. Some site it as having its origins as a pagan ritual, while others talk about the May Day tradition which marks the beginning of spring. One common theme does emerge in all of the research and that is that the raising of the maypole is cause for celebration and during Bavarian Festival in Frankenmuth is no exception.
But where does our maypole come from and how does it get to the festival grounds? This important task is literally on the shoulders of the Civic Events Council (CEC) board of directors and a few past presidents. They seek out that perfect specimen to adorn, carry into place and become the centerpiece of the event.
It all starts the Sunday before the festival when they convene at a local farm to wade through miles of forest to find that special tree. It has to be tall, with a very straight trunk and a beautiful top. The diameter is critical as it has to fit in the hole and cylinder that will anchor it in place over the weekend. The tree felling requires precision. With chainsaw in hand, the direction of the drop is determined so as not to cause injury to the planning crew or the other trees around it. Damage to the maypole-to-be also has to be considered. We can’t have it splitting or snap off the lovely top! Assuming all goes well (fingers crossed) it is laid down, gently maneuvered to the trailer, loaded up and makes its way to the festival grounds. Whew…step 1!
Step 2. Now to get our tree transformed into a proper maypole, it gets a nice shave and is beautified. The branches are removed and a ring of ribbons is anchored around the top. These ribbons will later be braided down the maypole by the maypole dancers to further enhance its stately appearance, but first we have to get it into place….on to Step 3.
The “Tree Cutting Ceremony” takes place on the Friday night of the festival and everyone is welcome to witness this feat of manpower. Dressed in their best German attire, the members of the CEC, several past presidents and sometimes the family from the farm it originated, hoist the tree onto their shoulders and carry it on the final leg of the journey to the hole it will rest in. The people in the front will put the base on the ground. Ropes and poles are put towards the top and more ropes at the base. Then, it’s a matter of push and pull. Those at the top push the tree up while the people at the bottom pull the ropes to keep it steady and in place. Windy days aren’t the greatest for this process, but for the last half a century the tradition has had a successful conclusion. The Bavarian Festival Maypole stands and the party can officially begin!
Throughout the weekend, our maypole will act as a beacon bringing attendees to the center of the festival. Surrounded by tradition, it’s one way that we continue to celebrate our German heritage. Finally…Step 4: Raise your stein of beer and PROST!