1 May is known throughout the world as Workers' Solidarity Day. But long before the emergence of trade unions on 30 April, it was customary in ancient Europe to hold triple processions of mummers who, with the sound of pipes, bells and rattles, chased away evil spirits on Walpurgis Night. Some people also raised the trunk of a centuries-old tree as a symbol of fertility and the beginning of summer. The tradition of putting up a maypole is common in many European countries: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Austria and some German states.
The tradition varies from country to country and region to region. Generally, the trunk is taken from a spruce tree and the bark is removed, leaving only the green crown. On the eve of the festival, the trunk, which weighs 2-3 tonnes, is taken to the centre of the village by a tractor. The green crown is decorated with a pine needles wreath, colorful summer flowers and freshly baked pretzels. Then the assembly begins, which takes about 2-3 hours, depending on the tree size and the number of participants.
In some parts of Austria, only unmarried men are engaged in this activity to demonstrate their strength to girls. There is also the tradition of stealing a maypole to obtain a ransom for sweets and drinks. Or even to cut down or file a heavy tree trunk, which is now strictly forbidden by the police under threat of heavy fines.
During the raising of the maypole, visitors listen to folk music, drink beer and lemonade and eat simple but hearty dishes: sausages, grilled chicken and tortillas with sauerkraut. The festivities usually begin at noon, so the various contests around the tree begin in the late afternoon when the maypole is upright and firmly in place. In the end, the young people climb up the smooth trunk of the maypole to reach the gifts from above: bread or sausages.
Raising the Maypole is a living tradition I will gladly introduce you to on my excursions around Salzburg in the first week of May.