Mayfest is one of mankind’s oldest traditions, the celebration of nature’s bright reawakening after winter’s cold darkness. The ancient pagan festival later took on Christian religious significance but is now a colorful, joyous part of history and culture.
The custom of the maypole began in the tenth century, when villagers would erect a pole in the local square and decorate it with sausages, cakes and multicolored ribbons. Dancing around the maypole, medieval citizens believed, would bring good luck and wealth.
Its religious and superstitious aspects have long since disappeared, but Mayfest is still celebrated throughout Germany, where cities and villages are bedecked with colorful drapery and flowers. Some areas light bonfires, while others elect May kings and most retain the maypole. Once again, the food is plentiful and beer and wine flow freely. Why not try a “Maibowle” (May punch), a refreshing mixture of white wine, champagne and woodruff or “Maibock” – a German beer brewed only during this season.
What better way to say goodbye to winter’s chill and hello to the comforts of spring?
Americans have been enjoying the famed German Oktoberfest celebration for decades. But you don’t have to wait until Fall to enjoy a fun German celebration. The ancient tradition of Maifest (May Festival) is becoming increasingly popular in cities across the US with traditional dancing, food and of course the customary Maibock beer and Maiwein.
With the picnic and barbecue season also around the corner, May is also a perfect time to enjoy German breads, pickles, mustards, cheeses and hams and a wide selection of beers and wines. Many retailers have special offers on German food at this time of year to coincide with Maifest. Click here to see if there’s a special promotion near you.
Since medieval times, May 1st has been a day for traditional springtime celebrations. Originating in pre-Christian agricultural rituals, such celebrations were originally intended to ensure fertility to the crops and were eventually extended to cattle ? and human beings. As is usually the case this primitive significance was gradually lost and the practices survived merely as popular festivities. Many customs of today are still connected to this day. Maiglocken (Maybells) are in bloom and in the stores children can purchase chocolate Maikäfer (May beetles) for good luck. Houses and dance halls are decked with green wreaths and garland and songs are sung to celebrate this joyous occasion. Ceremonial plantings of seedlings or young trees also play a large part of this celebration as a residual homage to gods of fertility. Small wonder that the “merry month of May” is the month most praised by poets and song writers.
In many villages throughout Germany, one can also observe the Maibaum (Maypole). The Maibaum may be officially erected in the market place, in front of city hall or some other prominent spot in town. Often colorful carved shingles or signs decorate the Maypole and indicate the town’s various trades and professions. It may be up the entire month of May, or even longer. The Maypole and the dance around it is a singular symbol of spring’s reawakening of fruitfulness. In some areas a whole village may gather around a Maypole to hold hands, dance, sing and drink.
In addition to the festivities, one can enjoy the Maiwein (May wine) that is dedicated to springtime and flavored with fresh Waldmeister (sweet woodruff). Maiwein, a white wine, imported from Germany, can be found in stores. Waldmeister is an old-world herb, a small plant with white blossoms. In Germany it grows in the forests. Unfortunately, the variety which grows wild in the US is not usable for flavoring. However, as a cultivated herb, this decorative plant may be grown in a shady corner of an herb garden. It should be used for flavoring only in May when the new leaves are tender. When this herb is cut up and soaked in wine it will produce the distinctive May wine taste.
The tradition of celebrating nature’s bright reawakening after winter is also the ideal time to break out the picnic table and the bbq. Mayfest is a time when genuine German beer and wine flow freely and picnic tables overflow with authentic German foods such as wholegrain breads, tangy mustards, crunchy pickles, cheeses and hams not to mention a large selection of delicious confectionery. Visit your local retailer and ask for genuine German imports and make this a Mayfest to remember!