Of Maypoles, Trees, and Holy Traditions

SPRING….. at last! Or so we thought.  On an exuberant first of May, we were caressed by the sun and enjoyed open air celebrations with traditional food and hoempapa  music.  The rest of the month the sun played games of hide and seek. Unrelenting rain tempests and laden skies dampened our spirits and tried our patience.  Enough of the cold and of the wet stuff!  All agree that we are ready for a long and uninterrupted sun-drenched summer.  As I write, May is about to make room for June and no sign that the rain will be letting up any time soon.  There is small comfort as I hear the same weary complaint from my family in northern Italy where the weather hasn’t been much better. “Quite unusual”, “It will get better” voices around me proclaim and so we keep hoping.

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Because of an early Easter, the consecutive religious remembrances all happened to fall in the same month. May has been a boon for workers in Baden Württenberg and Bavaria and a few other states. One long week-end followed another, although May first was a stand-alone since it fell on Wednesday.  Ascension, Pentecost and Corpus Christi, all  good reasons to have a “Brücke” or bridge, giving people one 3-day and two 4-day long week-ends. Here and in neighbouring states, schools have  two-week Pentecost holidays, and many parents decided to take part of their yearly vacation allotment at this time.

I was quite unfamiliar with the regional May first festivities. It is thought to have its origins in the pagan Germanic reverence for trees, which  through Christianization has lost its original meaning.  In one village, the Maypole was  topped with a cross made of pine boughs rather than a tree, declaring that no pagan connotation was to be given to the celebrations.

Villages compete to have the best, tallest Maypole and pine tree. At the end of the month everything is taken down again and the poles stored until next year – in some places they keep the poles and only remove the tree and decorations.

In my village the tree is set up in front of  the town house.  A local band attired in Swabian costume, followed by a youth band kept young and old entertained as they ate their Bratwurst and Kartoffelsalat (typical German potato salad) with their favourite drinks, and copious amounts of beer of course.  There was even a Schnappsmobil to crown the event. It was a fun-filled afternoon with much laughter and story-telling.

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One peculiar German tradition, dating from the 17th century, takes place the night before, on April 30th, where young men cut down  birch trees; decorate them with ribbons and place them in front of the house of their sweetheart.  The tradition, and the “stealing” of the tree  is explained in interesting detail in this blog:



Christi Himmelfahrt – Christ’s Ascension

According to the Bible, Christ’s ascension took place 40 days after Easter and signifies  the return of Christ, the son of God,  to his father in heaven. An important Christian feast, the celebration dates around the 4th Century AD. It is a statutory holiday and the event is commemorated with a special celebratory service in the Protestant and Free churches  and with a solemn Mass in the Catholic churches.  A great many people attended the celebrations. Larger protestant and catholic churches and cathedrals hold special organ concerts.


The Ascension – 1461 by Italian painter  Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506)  (public domain)

May stands for devotion, prayers and meditations

Daily times of prayer, song and meditations are held throughout southern Germany. Choirs are present everywhere. Special devotion is given to the Virgin Mary and despite unpredictable weather, many faithful attende the special events.

One of the convent Sisters invited me to join in a time of prayer at a lovely chapel in the woods, near the Abbey of Roggenberg about 15 kms from here. This may not sound very far for North Americans but here it is!

Due to a detour we had arrived about ten minutes before the start of the celebration. Usually at this time of year the service is held entirely outdoors but not this year… It was a particularly wet day and the rain was coming down in sheets. Despite the inclement weather  the chapel was packed to the rafters.  We were lucky enough to be able to  huddle with others under the awning at the main entrance, while others  groups had to seek shelter under the trees and their umbrellas.  Loudspeakers broadcasted the happenings so that nobody had to miss out. I was not sure what I would be in for but was pleasantly surprised that the songs, prayers and litanies were quite Christ-centered. The choir gave a beautiful presentation. Wannenkapelle

Wallfart Wannen Kapelle “Maria Hilf” (Chapel in the woods – Mary helps) – Roggenberg.


The story around the chapel dates from the period of the thirty-years religious war between Protestants and Catholics.  In a vision,  Mary, the mother of God, appeared to Father Franciscus Dozer and helped him from the noose, which had been put around his neck by warring Swedes.  One Swede returned to cut down the rope and found that Dozer was still alive.  At the end of his life he divulged the story of the apparition and his successor erected a chapel in the spot where the vision took place.

Pictures taken from: http://www.kloster-roggenburg.de/web/de/pfarreien/roggenburg/Wannenkapelle.php

Pfingsten – Pentecost



  Pentecost – 1782 by Austrian-Hungarian painter   István Dorffmaister (1431-1506) Public Domain

 The celebration commemorates the biblical account, in the book of Acts, of the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and Mary, in the form of fiery tongues. They were gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem when the event occurred. After this outpouring the apostles were filled with divine power.  When they related the good news of Christ to the masses gathered in the streets, they were understood by people of different nations in their own language. Pentecost is a statutory holiday in the region.

Fronleichnam – Corpus Christi (Celebration of the Body of Christ). Regional holiday.

Dating from the 14th Century AD according to Latin rite. This Roman Catholic tradition symbolizes the body and blood of Christ, whose presence is believe to be in the Eucharist.  A solemn procession takes place after the commemoration Mass. Fronleichnam is a regional holiday.  In my village the procession started at the Catholic church and made its way to the Brandenburg Convent.  Altar boys and girl headed the procession followed by a band, dignitaries, the canopy under which the priest carried the Corpus Christi, the sisters from the convent and a number of believers.  The practice is also held among some Lutheran and Anglican churches.

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The monstrance with the Corpus Christi

So many events have taken place this month; too many to cover here.  Another  update will follow in a couple of weeks providing snapshots of several day trips I made in the region.

Until then, keep dry!

One thought on “Of Maypoles, Trees, and Holy Traditions

  1. Thank you for the update Rosemary. I really enjoyed seeing the beautiful pictures and description of the religious traditions. It makes me homesick for Germany though! I heard all about the bad weather from Peter and other people vacationing in Europe. Here the rain was bearable this year. Take care and keep writing. Gertrude


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