There are many ways to show someone that you love him/ her. Where I come from, the Rhineland in Germany, we have a special and very romantic tradition that takes place in the middle of the night from the 30th of April to the 1st of May: setting up a May tree.
When you see guys with an axe over their shoulder walking into the forest at night you might get a bit nervous. Unless you’re a guy with an axe too, looking for the same thing: a young birch tree.
Tradition has it that young lovers have to cut a birch tree, decorate it with colourful ribbons and ‘May hearts’ and put it up in front of their lover’s window in that particular night to show their love.
This tradition dates back to the 17th century where these trees were used to let a woman know a man is interested or even wants to marry her.
Setting up the tree originally was a pagant tradition that symbolised fertility, the reawakening of nature and the beginning of spring.
Today it is a sign of affection and a rather manly way of showing one’s love, I think.
After one month the May tree giver has to remove the birch and is usually rewarded with a crate of beer by the girl’s parents.
In some regions other rewards like something salty, sour or spicy are given like a glass of mustard.
In the Rhineland lads can even choose to go through the trouble of cutting down and putting up a fir tree in order to tell someone they hate her.
Rule has it that every leapyear it is the girl’s turn to set up a May tree for their boys – just to have some equality…
Whoever cuts cuts a tree down has to remember that taking it from the forest actually is stealing. Therefore you either have to be quick or legally buy it from a forester.
For especially lazy guys there are companies like the May tree taxi that deliver ordered May trees of all sorts right to a chosen house.
Other May trees
In Bavaria there are whole May tree clubs that celebrate the tradition a little differently.
They too put up a birch tree, but in the middle of town. It is then decorated with different plaques, ribbons and symbols of the town.
Other towns or individuals may try to steal this symbol of fertility, but they have to follow a very strict set of rules for stealing a May tree.
The theft has to be secret, only when the tree hasn’t been put up and if the tree keeper lays his/ her hand on the tree and says “This tree stays here” the thieves have to give up and hand the tree back immediately.
If the tree was stolen successfully it has to be bailed out – without lawyers and after the transition no one is allowed to hold a grudge.
May tree excitement
Of course every girl who suspects someone to be in love with her or has a boyfriend/ fiancee/ husband peeks out of her window expectantly.
Because this May tree is a several meters high proof of love to the world – for everyone to see.
I think this is a very sweet tradition that I love much more than Valentine’s Day.
Even though it follows a set of rules, it involves a lot of effort and thought to actually have the tree standing in front of the window by the morning of the 1st.
So, thanks to all the guys who went into the forests with an axe on their shoulder last night in order to show someone they’re special and loved.
Read about other people’s traditions here.