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The maypole appeared in most Germanic countries, but has lost ground and remains popular only in Sweden, and to a lesser degree in England where it plays a key role in many May Day and Beltane festivities and rites. In Sweden it is used during the Midsummer festivities.

It is a tall wooden pole (traditionally of hawthorn or birch), with several long coloured ribbons suspended from the top. The top of the Maypole is often festooned with flowers and greenery.

In Sweden it appears in many varieties, the most common being a cross with two rings hanging from the "arms".

The Maypole as a simple pole is several centuries old in England, but the addition of ribbons is an invention of John Ruskin in the 19th century. Pairs of boys and girls (or men and women) stand alternately around the base of the pole, each holding the end of a ribbon. They weave in and around each other, boys going one way and girls going the other and the ribbons are woven together around the pole until the merry-makers meet at the base. There are also more complex dances for set numbers of (practised) dancers, involving complicated weaves and un-weaves, but they're not much known today.

Today maypole dances are often done without dividing the participants by gender, simply having them in pairs facing one another so half go one way and half go the other. This weaving of the Maypole is considered by some to be a magickal act.

In Sweden similar traditions were once observed but today the pole is the centre of traditional ring dances, the songs being more or less the same as during the dances around the Christmas tree.

The Maypole is often considered a phallic symbol, but its origin may be similar to that of the Bile Pole of the Celts. The Bile Pole is similar to the Norse World Tree, Yggdrasil, in that it connects the heavens, the earth, and the otherworld. In Sweden, the pole is popularly identified with the male sex and the rings with the female.

The Maypole is usually erected on a village green, and events are often supervised by local Morris dancing groups. In Sweden it is usually arranged by the local traditions groups.

See Also

Maypole dance for a folk dancing view.