May Day Tradition

The tradition of putting up the May pole during the evening of April 30 is still practiced in many areas of Slovenia. A May pole is crafted from a pine tree which the young boys of the village are responsible for finding and cutting down. Choosing a tall tree is important. Many pine trees reach heights of more than 100 yards. With this in mind, the boys must choose a tree according to height, as the height of a May pole reflects the value and quality of the village — the higher the May pole, the better the village. Three or four rows of branches are to be left at the top of the tree with the greens intact. Decorated wreaths are hung from the last row of branches. The bark is removed from the remainder of the tree.

Standing in the center of the village, the May pole is the pride of the people, and during the evening hours all the villagers, dressed in their best clothing, gather to view the pole and guess who will be able to climb to the top. Climbing is difficult because the pole is quite slippery with the bark removed. The winner is rewarded with loud shouting and applause. He is hailed as the champion of the village.

In the Trieste area, the young men steal the tree for the May pole from the forest and cut it down in secrecy, quietly delivering it into the village. When it is all decorated with flags, fruit and streamers, the bells start ringing from the church bell tower. This announces to the villagers that the May pole is standing. The village people are impatient. The boys scatter through the village. They go to the windows of their girlfriends and place a green bough from a poplar tree. Afterward a big feast is held in the village.

SNPJ-maypole_wreaths.jpgOn the following day, May 1, the people gather again. The young men walk through the village in a procession. In front of the procession they carry a poplar branch and go to a place where they hold a “boys hour,” which is a meeting of the village boys. At this time they accept the new, younger boys into their group. The younger boys are around the age of 16, and the older group leaders are 18 years old.

In the Ljutomer area of the Stajersko region, at this time the older boys tell the younger boys all the rules they must follow to be part of the group. In order to be accepted into the group of boys, the younger ones must promise to obey all the common rules shared by the young men of the village. In the village, boys must behave well. Teasing anybody or laughing at them is forbidden. Young men must not do any damage to anyone. They must work for a good name for all the boys and girls. They are not allowed to go to bars or argue, especially with older people. The young boys are told that if they are willing to follow such rules, everyone will like them and they will be well-received in the community.

The date of the boys’ acceptance into the village varies from region to region, and the custom has variations depending upon the location. In the Gorenjsko region they call this acceptance of the young boys a “baptism.” For this ceremony, a young boy pays for a bottle of wine and sings a song to the other boys. When he makes them laugh out loud, he has to confess to the boys’ leader. This leader baptises him by pouring the wine on his head. During this pouring he reads the commandments from the boys’ book of rules. These commandments vary from place to place, but they always carry a similar meaning.