May Poles. An overnight celebration.

I have seen a few of these poles recently. Appearing in people’s front gardens, they are always the same: pine branches decorated with blue flowers and with a garland hanging like a chandelier from near the top.  Curious as to the significance, I took the opportunity to ask a woman coming out of the house where this particular one was planted in Contis Plage, one of our recent stops.

“It’s a Mai, like the month,” she told me. “When I had my 70th birthday my friends came round when I was out and planted it. It’s an old tradition from this region. When you have a big celebration, your friends plant them, then you have to invite them all round for a meal. It’s an excuse for a party!”
Apparently, as she also told me, it’s not the only time for merriment. Once the birthday is over the friends who planted it come around again, this time to chop it down. As they do this they celebrate again with drinks and food. The tradition comes from times when the Maire (mayor) of the town would decorate a tree to tell of great events in the area. So it is a sign of happy times.
Naturally I am all for having flimsy excuses for having a party but this is a good one. I like the idea that it is up to the friends to plant it for you: you cannot do it for yourself. That means putting in some legwork to have friends and neighbours in the first place, which can only be a good thing!
The final twist in the tale, of course is that it must be done in secret. “The best ones,” the lady told me, “are those that are put up in the night. You wake up to open the curtains in the morning and see the tree and know that people are thinking about you: that they care. You also know that you have to prepare for a big party! But,” she continued, with a smile on her face, “if you catch them putting it up they have to pay!”
At this she laughed and made to go inside. I wished her a happy birthday and smiled all the way back to the van.


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