Back

SPRING RITUAL - MAYPOLE DANCE

Dora Strilchuk
May 22, 2024

How did Western Europeans used to celebrate the change of seasons? Today I’ll tell you about the Maypole Dance, a traditional dance in Britain!

What is the May Day dance?

The traditional May Day dance is also known as the Maypole Dance. It is an ancient festival that was originally a celebration of the changing of the seasons in the Northern Hemisphere.

Themes of May Day include:

  • Light
  • Flowers
  • Fertility

The Maypole Dance is a ceremonial folk tradition often performed during springtime festivals, symbolizing the celebration of spring, fertility, and the awakening of nature after winter. It involves a group of people dancing around a pole. Dancers weave ribbons around a tall pole adorned with greenery, flowers, and ribbons, creating intricate patterns as they move around it. 

Originating from ancient spring rites to ensure fertility, this tradition is commonly associated with May Day celebrations but also occurs during midsummer festivals in Scandinavia and other occasions elsewhere.

Variations of this tradition can be found across Europe and in India, with similar ribbon dances practiced in pre-Columbian Latin America and later incorporated into Hispanic ritual dances like the baile del cordón in Spain. Additionally, maypoles may feature in other ritual dances, such as the Basque ezpata dantza, or sword dance.

Interesting facts about the May Day dance:

  • The first noted occurrence of a maypole dance came during the 14th century in Llanidloes in central Wales. It’s thought to have come from Wales and Scotland before spreading around the rest of the United Kingdom.
  • The maypole was seen as anti-Christian when it first became popular, as the religious beliefs of the kings and queens of England at the time changed often.
  • The tallest maypole in England is 88 feet tall and is in Nun Monkton, North Yorkshire.
  • In Austria and Germany, the maypole is painted in blue and white stripes.

There’s a funny challenge called ‘maypole scrambling’ in these countries, in which people try to climb up the maypole.