In Bavaria, the night of 30th April into 1st May is a Freinacht. Traditionally, these were nights that preceded major religious festivals and were a time of pranks and practical jokes, called Maischerz. The maypoles erected by neighbouring villages were often a target and the maypoles would be taken and ransomed. This is still a part of Bavarian life and in 2017, some enterprising young men from the suburbs outside the city discovered the secret location of the official Maibaum for the city of Munich and stole it. In the traditional way it was returned after negotiations between representatives of the Neufinsing Men’s Club and the Munich Brewers’ Club agreed the terms of the ransom – two hearty meals and a generous amount of Munich’s finest beers!
In the Germanic culture, the night of 30th April to 1st May was celebrated for centuries as Walpurgisnacht, the feast of St. Walpurga. Traditionally, this was Witches Night and so, bells were rung for the nine days before, called Walpurgistage, and on Walpurgisnacht itself, fires were lit to drive away evil and pestilence and to prepare the world for the new year which, in most Northern European cultures, began on 1st May.
Many Walpurgis rites live on in whole variety of local customs and traditions, but the overarching totem of May Day is the Maypole, which symbolises the tree of life, fertility and new life. The maypole, often a birch but in Bavaria, more likely a spruce, was traditionally brought from the forest into the village and became the centre for the festivities that followed, many of which revolved around young couples and new love.
With the advent of more rigorous Christianisation, these ancient customs were condemned as pagan and were prohibited, not only in Germany but across Europe. As an example, May Day celebrations were banned in Scotland 1555 and in 1644, the English Parliament banned the erection of maypoles. However, the feelings and emotions that people experience, with the coming of Spring and the warmer weather, are as enduring as Nature itself and the less pagan rituals, like maypoles and dancing, soon resurfaced.
The modern Mai Tanz is a re-incarnation of these ancient pagan rites. A time of dancing and singing, of drinking and celebration. A time of new growth and new life. A time of lust and of love.