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The Slavic tradition of Raising a Maypole

Maypoles as a cultural phenomenon were already known in the ancient times as symbols of protection against evil spirits and disease. Later, young lads used to put up maypoles for girls – as a symbol of the green and life so that the girls would be pretty, slender and healthy…

One of the oldest records in medieval Europe is the one from 1255 which says that in Aachen (Germany) maypoles were erected on May Day, Whitsun and Midsummer in front of the church, town hall, the houses of the leading burgesses and generally respected people as a demonstration of respect and well-wishing. From here it was not too far to the idea of building a maypole in front of the house of an adored girl.

In the 15th century the erection of a maypole was a sign of serious interest in a girl, in certain circumstances it could even acquire legal significance, as attested by a decision of the church court in Bohemia that in 1422 acknowledged the validity of a marriage based on the oath of love and faith and an erected maypole. Later on maypoles were allocated different meanings in our country. In some regions and their sub-regions it is possible to basically observe three possibilities:

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– in the first case, a young man only erected a maypole for the girl he was interested in;
– in the second one, maypoles were youngsters‘ common gift to all adult girls in the village;
– the third variant was that each girl got a maypole, but if she had a boy of her own, her maypole was different from the ones raised as a collective present of the male youth.

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In the first third of the 20th century in Upper Gemer girls were still only getting maypoles from their admirers. Later on lads would raise a maypole for each girl in the village. While a spruce was an individual homage to a girl ready for marriage, a birch was a collective honour. In this region maypoles were put up at Whitsun, locally called “rosadlie”.

A part of raising maypoles was the youngsters‘ walk-around with music from house to house, dancing with the girls, singing occasional songs, treating and gifting of the lads (with in-kind gifts, later money), games, competitions and collective entertainment.

On May 1, people in every town and every village in Slovakia raise a Maypole.

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