Maifest (Mayfest) is one of mankind’s oldest traditions! It is the celebration of nature’s bright reawakening after winter’s cold darkness. The ancient pagan festival eventually took on Christian religious significance, much like Christmas. However, it is now a colorful, joyous part of history and culture in Europe! The custom of the maypole began in the tenth century, when villagers would erect a pole in the local square. They would decorate it with sausages, cakes and multicolored ribbons! The villagers would dance around the maypole, as medieval citizens believed that it would bring good luck and wealth!
Its religious and superstitious aspects have long since disappeared, but Maifest is still celebrated throughout Germany! During Maifest, cities and villages are bedecked with colorful drapery and flowers. Some areas light bonfires, while others elect May kings. One commonality shared among most regions is the retention of 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.
Americans have been enjoying the famed German Oktoberfest celebration for decades. However, one does not have to wait until Autumn to enjoy a fun German celebration! The ancient tradition of Maifest is becoming increasingly popular in cities across the U.S. Much like in Germany, there is traditional dancing, food and of course the customary Maibock beer and Maiwein. While the celebration has not caught on as much as Oktoberfest, there is no doubt that it is just as enjoyable. Additionally, Maifest is a very family-friendly festival, with activities for those of all ages! As the picnic and barbecue season is right around the corner, May is a perfect time to enjoy German breads, pickles, mustards, cheeses and hams! Many retailers have special offers on German food at this time to coincide with Maifest! Click here to see if there’s a special promotion near you.
At Maifest celebrations the food is plentiful and beer and wine flow freely! A very popular drink is a “Maibowle” (May punch), a refreshing mixture of white wine, champagne and woodruff. “Maibock,” a German beer brewed only during Spring is another prime drink choice! Maiwein (May-wine) is dedicated to springtime and flavored with fresh Waldmeister (sweet woodruff). This white wine that is imported from Germany can often be found in stores. Waldmeister is an old-world herb, a small plant with white blossoms that grows in the forests of Germany. In the U.S. this plant is decorative and can be grown in a shady corner of an herb garden. Waldmeister should be used for flavoring only in May when the new leaves are tender. When it is cut up and soaked in wine it produces the distinctive May wine taste!