The first of May - from Walpurgis Night to Labour Day

The first of May is a public holiday in Germany. In this article, we will tell you about the different traditions surrounding the first of May. You will also find out which customs are celebrated in different parts of Germany.

Walpurgis Night πŸŒ™

The night before the first of May is often referred to as Walpurgis Night and is associated with a festival where witches dance around a fire. The name derives from the Catholic Church, it referrs to the holy nun Walburga. In the course of time, Walburga's day of remembrance was linked to other Christian spring customs. Walpurgis Night celebrates the arrival of spring. According to ancient folk belief, the Germanic gods drive out the winter demons on this night.

May fire πŸ”₯

Traditionally, so-called witch fires or May fires are lit on Walpurgis Night. In the past, they were used to drive away evil spirits and witches and to ward off illness. In some regions, however, lovers are also brought together by jumping over the fire together.

Dance into May πŸ’ƒπŸ»πŸ•ΊπŸΌ

Today, the traditional celebration of Walpurgis Night has had to give way to more modern customs - Walpurgis Night has evolved over time into the β€œDance into May”. Many villages start their Dance Night already in the afternoon of April 30th. In the evening, the cosy get-together turns into a long evening of dancing with loud music.

Maypole in the village centre 🌱

A widespread tradition in Germany is the construction of the so-called maypole. The most common form of maypole is a decorated tree that is erected on May first at a central location in the town, usually the market square. The maypole is festively decorated and is traditionally supposed to be build using pure muscle power. In many communities, however, cranes are now used to raise it for safety reasons. The trees are seen as a symbol of spring, newly awakened life and fertility. It is not known exactly where the custom comes from.

Maypole for love πŸ’–

Another maypole tradition that is widespread in Western Germany is that young men cut down birch trees, decorate them and put them up in the front garden of their beloved on the night before the first of May. The birches are decorated with crepe paper, colourful ribbons or garlands. Often inscribed hearts with the name of the loved one are attached to the maypoles.

However, setting up the maypole is no longer a male preserve. Since around 2004, many women, at least in leap years, also set up a maypole for their beloved.

Labour Day πŸ’ͺ

May Day is not only a day on which maypoles are traditionally set up, but is also "Labour Day" - a bank holiday in all of Germany. Trade unions traditionally use May Day to demonstrate for workers' rights.

Labour Day has its origins in the US, where the first of May was for a long time the deadline for ending or signing employment contracts. Since many people had to change their jobs and places of residence on this day, it was also known as "Moving Day". In Germany, the first call to observe May Day as a day of labour movement was made in 1898. Although there was no call for a general strike, about 100,000 people in Germany stayed away from work in protest on May first 1890.

May Day has a long history, combining many different traditions that are celebrated throughout Germany. 
If you want to learn more about German customs and holidays, just click on the category "Public Holidays" in the menu bar on the right.πŸ˜‰