(Night of the Witches &
The Posting of May Pine Trees)
May 1st as a Holiday
In Switzerland, May 1st seems like a holiday and a lot of businesses are closed.
"But," says Herbert, "It's not really a holiday. You can take the day off work, but you need to use your vacation time." He went on to explain that many countries celebrate May 1st as a holiday and that it has something to do with labor unions.
Of course I said, "Not in America." I reminded him that we have something called Labor Day, but it's in September and surely our businesses are not closed.
In America , May 1st is called May Day and doesn't mean much more than dancing around May poles and delivering candy to your friends. At least that's what we did when I was a child (which was a long time ago.)
I still wanted to know more and I looked it up on the internet. Herbert was right and it does have a lot to do with labor unions. I ended up finding more information than I really wanted, but if you're interested, the following link has a thorough and lengthy explanation of the connectin between May 1st and labor unions.
I also found a site that talks about how the Americans chose a different day for their 'Labor Day' than everyone else. Here's that site:
Alright. Enough about labor unions and Americans being different.
There's a fun side to May 1st, at least in the village of Oberwil and in other villages in our region.
The night before May 1st is a very active night and, as you can see by the title of this page, it has two names - Walpurgisnacht and Maitanndli Stellen. Confusing? It was for me. However, after making it through one of these, I can tell you what happens during this night...
The Posting of May Pine Trees
All the young men in the village, around the ages of 16 to 20, get together for a little fun. They have two tasks to perform which seems to be in line with the names for the evening.
Their first task is the Maitanndli Stellen part. They post pine trees at the houses of all the 16 to 20 year old girls in the village whom they find appealing, nice or whatever can be taken as being a good girl. This is not a simple task for the boys. It's not like sticking a Christmas-type tree in the yard of the girl. These trees look like little pine trees attached to very long poles, but they're actually very tall trees with all branches removed, except for the very top. They're taller than any of the houses that they will be posted at.
The young girl's name is written on a wooden plaque that is also attached to the pole of the tree. The trees are put at the house of girl and because the poles are so tall, you're able to see the trees from almost anywhere in the village. It's almost as if it's free advertising that a young, available and probably nice girl lives where this tree is posted.
And what about a girl who isn't nice? Does she end up feeling left out the next morning when she looks outside and sees that she didn't get a tree posted? Nope. Not left out. Disappointed maybe, but not ignored.
For these girls, a 'puppet' is posted high in the yard of her house. The puppet is a large straw figure with the girls name on it. It tells everyone that sees it that the boys were not happy with this girl. Either she was mean to them, is mean in general or maybe it's as simple as the fact that she didn't follow the rules of tradition of the Maitanndli Stellen.. maybe she didn't feed them last year after they had given her a tree. You see, after a girl has had a tree posted for her, she then has the obligation to invite all of the boys, as a group, to her house some evening for a meal or a snack. She has has a little less than one year to do this.
Whatever their reasoning is, after hearing about this part, my sensitive side was left hoping that somehow this was still part of the fun. I hoped that everyone, including the 'mean' girl, found some fun in all of it. I'm not quite sure though. If I was the girl, I don't think I'd find this night or the next morning to be so entertaining. It only reminds me of a child getting coal in their Christmas stocking.
This year, a girl in our village got a puppet. I wanted to take a photo and assumed I should hurry because surely she would take it down as soon as she saw it. Nope. Two, three, four days later and the thing was still there.
I did some questioning, which wasn't difficult because I found that there was quite a buzz in the village about this girl's puppet. The puppet wasn't put at the girl's house, it was posted in front of our local market - just to make sure everyone saw it. It left everyone wondering who she was and what she had done. After asking everyone that I knew was capable of understanding a little English - or my poor Swiss German - I found the answer I was looking for at home. Yves, Herbert's son, knew the story.
The group of boys who posted this 'puppet' included the brother of the young girl. Apparently she had gotten a 'nice' tree the year before and had failed to invite the boys for a dinner or snack. Her brother warned her that she still needed to do this and that there was talk that she would be given a 'puppet' this year. She said she didn't care. And so, after hearing the rest of this story, my heart is less heavy and I can move on...
Night of the Witches
Continuing on with the 'fun' of the night brings us to the second job of these young boys, the Walpurgisnacht, or Night of the Witches.
Basically, they are thieves.
They steal things from peoples yards. If it can be moved, there's a possibility that it will be. Picnic tables, chairs, plants and trees in pots, hoses, ceramic statues, bicycles, anything. Again, sounds like loads of fun for all of us who live in the village.
But really, it's not as bad as I'm trying to make it out to be. You see, they give everything back. Well, they don't really give it back. But you can go get it. They pile everything up outside of our local cheese dairy and in the morning, you can go and get it.
Just seeing all this stuff arranged in the yard of the cheese dairy can be entertaining and made me think that maybe it's not such a bad 'holiday'. Just mischievous boys doing their job of carrying out tradition.
To see photos of the fun from May 1st, 2002, go here