Bank holidays were always a highly anticipated event when I still lived in the UK for one of two reasons: either you had a day of freedom from the day to day drudgery of work or a chance for monetary gain in the form of wages at time and a half. This was certainly the case when I worked in one of the many leviathan like supermarket chains. However, when I became a student and took up the habitual employment of pubs and clubs, Bank Holidays were greeted with a sense of dread and foreboding. While everyone had the day off, my colleagues and I where imprisoned behind a increasingly sweaty bar helping the masses enjoy the benefits of their free day. Instead of enjoying these annual events I grew to hate their arrival and the inevitable influx of thoroughly inebriated clientele.
Having moved to Germany and begun a career that is far from the horrors of the service industry, I can begin to appreciate the fondness many have for Bank holidays and especially May Day. In the UK this is welcomed by various forms of celebration. Maypoles are erected, Morris dancers get their groove on, students in St Andrews go for a dawn swim in their birthday suits and anarchists take on capitalism in one form or another. It will come as no surprise that Germany has its on special traditions often encapsulated in the village or cities Mai Baum. Although the tradition of the Mai baum differs from state to state the general rule appears to be that 30th April signifies the start of spring, which in turn is celebrated by the selection of a suitable tree (Mai Baum) to be placed atop a pole in the centre of the village. This usually coincides with some kind of Dorf-Fest (village party) with the locals decked out in the finery of Dirndls and Lederhosen with copious amounts of beer consumed by all.
There is some elaboration on this theme in different areas, with some villagers taking up the age old tradition of thieving a tree from a neighbouring village, which must then be protected for at least one night from being reclaimed by the victims of the theft. Another important tradition, depending on where you are, is the presentation of a decorated tree by young men to their prospective girlfriends. This is usually accomplished on the night of the 30th, under cover of darkness, with the tree left at the lucky young ladies house. An alternative to this idea is to leave a tree decorated with white which signifies the recipient isn’t really the flavour of the month. This obscure tradition seems a lot of effort just to say “screw you”.