March 28


Maypole - Day of the Irxenschmoiz

By Frank

March 28, 2023

Raising the maypole is one of the most popular traditions throughout Bavaria. It is the day of Irxenschmalze (strength in the arms and shoulders). Every year on May 1st, the decorated tree, often decorated with decorative signs, is set up in central squares in towns and communities.

In some places it is set up with the bark and in other places it is peeled and painted white and blue - (tree bark removed as beetles are the evil spirits) - hung with colorful ribbons, decorated with carved figures and adorned with a wreath .

AHA! cool...

history and traditions

Maypoles are documented as early as the 13th century . You can meet them in almost all of Europe, but also outside. The symbolism is ambiguous: driving away evil spirits , praise and reprimand for the girls in the village and a mark of honor for the dignitaries.


The maypole was once a witch tree . During the witch hunts of the 17th century, which suspected the activities of evil spirits everywhere and at any time, and especially on Walpurgis Night from April 30th to May 1st, the maypole found particular support. The trunk of the tree had to be carefully peeled off so that the witches could not get stuck under the bark . Such superstition was also the main reason why the setting of the maypole was often forbidden by the 18th century Enlighteners.

This night from April 30th to May 1st has been a very special night from very early times. TheCeltsalready they had„Beltane“called and with a bonfirehappy spring and fertility festivalcelebrated. The best known is theLegend of the Blocksbergin the Harz. There the witches are supposed to meet with ghosts and demons anddangerous sorceryhost. If you want to see it, you have to secretly sneak up to a witches' dance floor and get yourself oneWreath of centaurysit up and rub yourself with the 'witch herb' valerian. The legend says so, howeverLuckily it's just superstition...

Germanic tree rites

As the origin of the Maypole tradition, Germanic tree rites for worshiping the forest deities are often cited. In pre-Christian times people danced around selected trees as a sign of the return of spring , as a symbol of growth and fertility . Like other pagan cult acts, the maypole, which is also known as "Marienbaum" in some areas, mixed with Christian customs, but was also forbidden at times.

Peeled and decorated maypoles have been known since the Middle Ages as a symbol of prosperity and blessing . Over time, in addition to wreaths and ribbons , small plaques were also attached to crossbeams on the maypole. The handicrafts and trades of the place , as well as the church, the town hall and the school are represented on it. In the 19th century the local maypole appeared, preferred in Bavaria for independent communities as a sign of their self-confidence.

However, history teaches that many ancient customs have been Christianized . Wherever the church could not ban pagan festivals , they placed the customs in a Christian context , if possible with the next Christian holiday .

The oldest written reference to a maypole comes from Caesarius von Heisterbach. Around 1222, the Cistercian monk wrote a treatise on the customs and cultural history of his time in his monastery near Königswinter near Bonn. It is obvious that the maypole has something to do with the awakening of nature. Finally, the tree is also decorated with mays. That's what young birch trees are called because they are the first to wake up from hibernation.

Martin Luther also translated in Psalm 118 , "Adorn the feast with Mayen to the horns of the altar". The birch is a symbol of strength and grace, will to live and consolation, light and cheerfulness.

Birch as a token of love

The tradition of Liebesmaien is very popular in a number of regions. It is customary for young, unmarried men in a village to set up small trees, so-called Maien (usually birches) , in front of the houses or windows of their girlfriends or loved ones. (In cities, a birch branch in front of the window must suffice :-)) On the other hand , one should beware of fir, cherry or thorn branches! These are disgraceful and are given to girls who are supposed to be exposed.

Then the trees are often decorated with colorful crepe paper and a so-called May heart, on which the name of the loved one or a saying is written, made of wood or solid cardboard. The maypole usually stays there for a month before the person who put it up picks it up again. This is usually associated with recognition by the woman , such as an invitation to dinner.

custom and tradition

Nowadays the maypole is felled a week before May 1st, then it is the so-called " Maypole Week ", during which the maypole is hidden in a secret place (in a farmer's stable or in the threshing floor or on the hayloft) and where the guards (usually the rural youth of the respective place) spend the night. From time to time word gets around about the location of the hidden maypole and other rural youth groups try to steal the maypole. The tree is not decorated until the night of May 1st.

It is interesting that both the stealing of the tree from the forest and the stealing of a tree that has been felled but not yet erected is not seen as a crime in the courts , but is still regarded as a custom.

steal maypole

In relation to the tradition of the May Festival, it is crucial to guard the maypole well on the night before May 1st , because, as is customary, neighboring communities try to steal from each other . If the villagers are not paying attention and you manage to steal the maypole, you have to release it . There is usually enough time until May 1st for the release and the return transport. When releasing the stolen tree , a price is negotiated with the thieves. Usually drinks and food.

Rules for stealing the maypole

  • If a guard places his hand on the trunk , the thieves may no longer touch the maypole. If the thieves are surprised while being transported away within the municipal boundaries , they must return their loot without a fight.
  • Trees that have been set up may no longer be stolen
  • The ornaments of trees must not be stolen, only the trunk
  • If the theft was successful, the parties enter into return negotiations . Excessive demands should not be made.
  • Traditionally, after returning the loot, the maypole thieves help those who have been stolen to set it up and, if necessary, also take over the decoration.
  • Stealing the maypole in your own town is taboo.


The traditional maypole climbing

Maypole climbing with pig's pitch

climbing the maypole

If the maypole survived the night unscathed, it is inaugurated to thunderous applause . But this also includes a special kind of dare. With bare hands, in leather trousers and with a bare upper body, the attempt is made to climb the top of the tree as quickly as possible . In order to have even a chance to ring the bell at a height of 15 meters (up to 40 meters!), a mysterious resin mixture is used. A blend of resin and hog pitch promises grip and the ideal grip for intrepid climbers. Climbing up the trunk is called "Häzen" in dialect.

Acrobatics on the maypole

For example, the Zeilarn maypole climbers (Zeilarn in Rottall-Inn) climb at daring heights and perform daring acrobatic figures . Courage, skill and a sticky pitch mixture for safety are of course required.

The figures are acrobatic performances involving at least two maypole climbers. In the " Swimming " figure, for example, a climber puts on an old fire brigade belt, to which a second one holds him. Only held by his colleague does the Kraxler act as if he were breaststroke in the air . Of course, the maypole climbers have to be free from giddiness and trust each other blindly . A basic rule for those who participate is that you can say at any time when the strength is going down - then the figure will be aborted and stopped completely.

Back on solid ground, the hero of the day is celebrated and the festival is enjoyed to the fullest.

What's exciting to see

Putting up the maypole

If the tree is successfully guarded, the erection can begin on May 1st, often in the village square. An unwritten law stipulates that setting up must be done with muscle power alone and with the help of poles (swallows).

Setting up maypoles does not require special approval. The reason: According to the Bavarian Building Code, masts that are erected for reasons of custom are not subject to any procedure - and that also includes maypoles. Nevertheless, of course, a maypole cannot be set up everywhere. The consent of the property owner must be obtained. In most cases, the setting up is also connected to a public event. And this must be reported to the responsible municipality. If alcoholic beverages are also served, a permit under catering law is also required.

In traditional erecting, the tree is erected with so-called "swallows" (staggered long poles). The most important thing here is the right cooperation. Unequal lifting could cause the tree to slip or one of the "swallows" to break. That's why it makes sense to have backup "swallows" and extra people on hand. In addition, the tree should be additionally secured during erection - for example with a cable winch, crane or similar.

When anchoring in the ground, the tree can either be bolted between two U-bars set in concrete or in the ground. The advantage of U-bars is that they determine exactly how the tree can be lifted.

Insurance - what happens if something happens?

"If a club puts up the maypole as its own maypole, then this club must ask its liability insurance company whether it is covered by insurance. If there is no insurance cover for club liability, liability insurance can be taken out for setting up and one year of downtime. That is the so-called maypole insurance.”

How long can a maypole stay up?

A maximum of five years, then it must be dismantled again at the latest. However, the tree must be checked for stability every year. There are also legal requirements, as Klaus Leuthner explains: “In the first year, a wood specialist, for example a carpenter, can check the condition of the tree. In the second year, a wood expert must move in. This is someone who has attended a special Maibaum training course. From the third year, the control is then only permitted by a publicly appointed expert.” (Source: Idowa news portal)

About the author

It is more valuable to experience a place in detail than many small impressions of an incomprehensible whole.

Genius Loci - discovering, capturing and experiencing the spirit of a place. Perceive - understand - enjoy!

As a graduate industrial engineer with an additional MBA degree from a renowned university in England (EMBA, EQUIS and AACSB accredited), I have been showing other, often surprising, paths to success for more than 30 years at C-Level (Head of Marketing and Sales worldwide).

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