May Day

May 4th, 2012

Tuesday was May Day, which in Switzerland is celebrated either with water cannons or maypoles, depending. I prefer the maypole version myself, but it seems to be a dying tradition, at least around where I live. This year there is one maypole in our village:

This would have been put up during the night, by a boy who is sweet on a girl who lives in this building and a handful of his friends because it’s not something you can do alone. It’s pretty hard to tell from my pictures, but that maypole is of one piece. That is, it is a pine tree (well, a conifer of some variety) that has been cut down, the branches removed and the bark shaved until the tip, which remains green and is decorated with streamers. It has then been mounted, and whoever it is that’s sweet on this girl is lucky because there is a lamppost right in front of her house so the boy and his friends simply bound it to the lamppost.

If there had been nothing to bind the maypole to, the boys would have had to fashion some kind of stand, and probably dig a hole to boot. All in the middle of the night. A placard is on the pole, with the girl’s name carved on it.

I keep saying “boy” but if you look at the work involved, I’m talking about older boys. This isn’t something a middle-schooler would do. R put up a maypole for a girl once, when he was 18. If I remember the story right – and he’s not here right now for me to ask – another boy had beaten him to the girl’s house and there was a maypole there already, so R and his friends took it down, which is apparently what you do when you’re in a maypole competition to get a girl’s attention. The last pole standing at dawn wins. So boys – young men? I never know what to call that age group (I’ve got 10 years to figure it out I guess) – need to put their maypoles up under cover of darkness, but not too early in the night because then there’s a bigger chance that another boy will come along and knock your pole down. But I would imagine they can’t wait until too close to dawn because putting up a maypole seems like an awful lot of work and must take a while. And make some noise.

The maypole is put up anonymously and will remain up all month; at the end of the month the boy and his gang of helpers show up at the girl’s door and she makes them a spaghetti dinner. I imagine by then she’s got a pretty good guess as to who put up the maypole, but I suppose there are always some surprises May 31st. If SB ever does this for a girl (and I’ve got a few guesses already as to who the girl would be) I feel sort of sorry for her because imagine having to cook a spaghetti dinner for five 18 year old hockey players. Who would even have that much spaghetti in the house?

But as I’ve said, the tradition seems to be dying out. There were definitely more maypoles going up when I first moved here. Maybe by the time SB and Boychen are old enough to do this, it simply won’t be the thing to do anymore. That would be a bit of a shame.

What happened on May Day where you live?

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