AMERICAN WEDDINGS BLOG
Published: Monday, May. 3rd, 2021
If you’re planning a May Day wedding, or any outdoor wedding celebration that promises clear skies and sunshine, why not plan a maypole dance? This spring tradition has been embraced for centuries as a way to celebrate new beginnings and the promise of a successful and joyous future.
The exact origin of the maypole is hard to nail down, but the tradition may have started as part of a Pagan fire festival called Beltane, celebrated in the British Isles by ancient Druids. But Beltane and its Germanic counterpart, May Day, and a third holiday that resulted from an early Christian merging of the first two, called Walpurgis Night, all share similar rituals, including bonfires, feasts, and (yep!) maypoles.
In ancient days, townsfolk cut down a tall tree and stuck it in the ground to represent a mighty phallus, and danced around it as part of a fertility ritual to mark the start of planting season and a wish for fertile fields and the birth of many children.
These days, modern Pagans, Medieval and Renaissance enthusiasts, and those with Gaelic and Celtic roots still dance to celebrate nature’s abundance. But the meaning of the maypole dance has broadened, appealing to people from every walk of life.
Now, these dances are a festive and unique way to celebrate friendship, hope, imagination, love, joyful commitment, and the weaving of two families or communities together as one.
As you dance, the ribbons will form a cheerful woven pattern.
To stick closest to tradition, you’ll need to find a wooden pole to use -- something that comes from the earth. But if you’re not able to find one, build one! These linked instructions will guide you through constructing the pole itself, cutting the ribbon, and putting it all together.
You’ll need plenty of room for dancing in a wide circle! The more people you invite, the more space you’ll need (and the taller your pole will need to be). A park with an open field or a very large yard will work.
If you want your wedding celebration to have a spiritual ‘feel,’ you’ll want to bless the space. To follow Pagan tradition, ask a local priest or priestess for a blessing, or you can do it yourself with your guests as part of your celebration.
You’ll need to learn a maypole dance, of course. Generally speaking, you’ll divide your friends and family into two groups and have everyone dance in a specific pattern -- something in the over - under - over - under variety -- as they circle the pole. If you’re not too picky about how the ribbons look on the finished pole, you won’t need to worry as much about planning and rehearsing the dance itself. For an example of this dance, watch the video linked below or do a quick internet search (you’ll find lots of wonderful examples).
Plan a feast and some well-earned relaxation for guests when the dancing is through. Celebrating the start of a marriage, the coming of summer, and all of the earth’s abundance works up an appetite!
Maypoles were once considered scandalous because of their Pagan origins and connection to fertility and sexuality. Puritans even went as far as to ban maypoles in England in 1644, but they made a comeback in 1660 following the Restoration.
You can usually find maypoles at Renaissance fairs, Neo-Pagan festivals, May Day celebrations throughout Europe and the United States, and, of course, weddings!
An example of a complex maypole dance from The School in Rose Valley in Pennsylvania.
Don't worry, yours can be as simple or complex as you want it to be!