Maibaum and Maistange

                              Maibaum bMaistange



In the German-speaking areas of Europe, the concept of the maypole is different than the more commonly known Celtic ribbon-bedecked version. In southern Germany and Austria, a Maibaum (lit. "maytree") is decorated with figures, houses, churches, craftsmen, dancers or religious motifs attached sideways to the trunk. These are usually erected on the First of May, and are surrounded by many different practices. First, a suitable tree must be taken from the forest and its bark stripped away. Then it is decorated, and erected solely by manpower (no mechanical aid). In Austria, the erect Maibaum must be guarded against being pilfered by a neighboring village. If the tree is stolen, there is a big celebration when its ransom is paid in beer. Like maypoles, the Maibaum is used as a central point for games and dances.




The history of the Maibaum is traceable to the middle of the 18th century. Regular maytree customs attached to a certain date (i.e. May 1) arose later as a result of the Thirty Years' War. During that time, soldiers put up "honor trees" for officers, sovereigns or high local officials, for which "May beer" was given out and other privileges were granted. Increased forestry regulation caused Maibaum practices to die out in many places. After a resurgance in the 19th century, it experienced its widest prevalence with the propaganda of the National Socialists, who declared the maytree a symbol of waking nature.







A Maistange is a stripped tree whose natural top is left in place, and is frequently wreathed or crowned near the top. The history dates to the beginning of the 16th century, and they were often climbed in competitions. In Switzerland, a Maistange has a variety of uses. A shorter wreathed pole with no natural top is used in parts of Switzerland to mark a maiden's coming of age. When a building is constructed, the roof raising is celebrated by mounting a tree top (approx. 3-ft. high) on the highest point, and drinking beer. But by far the most common use is in marking a birth. When a child arrives, a Maistange taller than the house is erected. It bears its natural top, as well as a wooden shield painted with the child's name, red and white stripes in paint or ribbon along the trunk, and items such as small toys. The one in my neighbor's yard is pictured to the left. The birth Maistange is a tradition carried out by Vereine, or clubs, of which the new parents are members--mostly community, music and sports clubs. My husband tells me it is much more prevalent in the Catholic areas. I don't know if that's a religious connection, or if Catholics are just in more clubs.






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Some info gathered from Universität Innsbruck