Maypole dancing has been part of various European folk festivals for centuries.
The festivals usually occur on May 1 or at Pentecost, although in some countries the maypole is erected between June 20-26. In some places, the maypole is a permanent feature that is only used during the festival.
Dancing traditionally occurs around a tall wooden pole. Originating about 800 years ago, the shape of the pole allowed garlands to be hung from them, and were found mainly within the countries of Germanic Europe and neighbouring areas, the origins of the maypole is unclear.
Some speculate that the maypole originally had some importance in the Germanic paganism period of the Iron Age and early Medieval cultures, and that the tradition survived the beginnings of Christianity.
It has been a recorded practice in many parts of Europe since Medieval times, although its popularity declined in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Today, the tradition is still observed in some parts of Europe and among European communities in the Americas, including the United States.
English historian Ronald Hutton and Swedish scholar Carl Wilhelm von Sydow believe that maypoles were erected “simply as signs that the season of ‘warmth and comfort’ had returned.”
In Sweden and Swedish-speaking parts of Finland, the maypole is usually called a midsummer pole, (midsommarstång), as it appears at the Midsummer celebrations.
Maypole traditions are also found in some parts of Italy, such as Veneto, Friuli, Umbria, and Marche. In Marche, the tradition dates back to the Napoleonic campaigns of the early 1800s.
The only Maypole in Ireland is located in the centre of the town of Holywood in Northern Ireland. It’s believed the original maypole dates from the 18th century when a Dutch ship ran aground.
In the United Kingdom, the maypole was mainly found in England and in the Scottish Lowlands and Wales, areas that were under English influence at the time. The earliest recorded evidence is in a Welsh poem from the mid-14th century. The poem describes how people used a tall birch pole at Llanidloes in central Wales.
In Belgium, the Maypole is called Meiboom or Meyboom. In Brussels and Leuven, the Meyboom is traditionally erected on August 9 before 5 pm. The planting of the Meyboom is the cause of a friendly rivalry between the two cities that dates back to 1213.
In Germany and Austria, the maypole is a tradition going back to the 16th century. It is a decorated tree or tree trunk that is usually erected either on May 1 – in Baden and Swabia – or April 30. In most areas, there’s also a special ceremony when the maypole is erected on the village green. It is often combined with a village or town fete.
Information gleaned from Wikipedia.
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