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 open the carnival fair season and elect May queens and 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 residential houses. They 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. A related century-old tradition is the robbery of decorated may trees at night from April 30 to May 1 – the same night of Walpurgisnacht, (“witches night”), celebrated in Germany, Eastern and Northern Europe with bonfires, lots of booze and dancing.
Americans have been enjoying famed German folk fests for centuries in the merry month of May. Towns such as a Hermann, Missouri, Strasburg, Virginia, Brenham, Texas, Myrtle Beach, Florida and Tulsa, Oklahoma have celebrated Mayfest since the early 1800. Much like in Germany, there is traditional dancing, food and, of course, the customary Maibock beer or May Punch. One exception: the US celebrates Europe’s traditional International Workers Day on May 1 in the beginning of September, originally for political reasons. May is a perfect time to enjoy German breads, pickles, mustards, cheeses and hams! Some specialty food retailers even have special offers on German food at this time to coincide with Maifest!
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!
Editor: Arnim von Friedeburg