Thursday, 1 May 2008

May Day - the celebration of love

Just like the English with their ' of golden daffodils..', the Czechs will all happily recite their 'Byl prvni maj, byl lasky cas...' (It was the 1st of May, the time for love), a ubiquitous icon-poem by Karel Hynek Macha, a romantic poet who (how else) died of consumption at the tender age of 26, in 1836. And today all through the country, the young (and the old) will be kissing under apple trees in blossom, so as to keep their love and youthful spirit alive, and everywhere there are Maypoles and dancing and general merriment. The merriment will end up in much liquid form of entertainment tonight, but hey, that's all part of the magical 'spirit' of the day.
The Czech Maypoles and their customs differ slightly to the British ones, so here's a brief description:
First of all, the 'positive' May Day is preceeded by a 'negative' Witch Day (in the Germanic culture this is the famous Walpurgisnight. This night, the witches are supposedly at the peak of their powers, so all around the countryside fires are lit to keep them away (or to burn them, but perhaps that's a much later Christian interpretation) The pagan rituals of this night included jumping through the fire in complex geometrical patterns, and people also believed that they can find treasures on this day (but only if carrying a specially prepared candle, and a piece of fern for protection).
But back to the Maypole. Here, groups of young men set out at night to find the tallest thin tree. They take it, peel the bark, leaving only the green tip, and carry it back to their village. There they decorate it with ribbons, scarves, and so on, and erect it at dawn, usually at the village green. There will be dancing under the pole, but the biggest dance won't happen until the first May Sunday. Today the young men will also be making smaller, personal Maypoles - usually a young birch, decorated with ribbons - which they'll plant at the house of their beloved as a sign of their love, amounting to their asking for the hand of their beloved.
Here in Cesky Krumlov, the town is full of tourists who have arrived to a big May Day party. The Maypole has been erected at the Brewery gardens, bands are playing, there are some displays of folk dancing and so on. Well, much of the music is nothing to do with the traditional folk kind - since last night, globalised pop is blaring all over the place. But hey, this is a festival of Youth, after all :-) and time moves on, despite traditions. As long as the kissing remains - of which there is fortunately still a lot in evidence.

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