Folktales, Legends, and Stories
The custom of
placing Máje or May trees dates back to ancient times.
On the first day
of May in Greece and Rome, small trees were put on the houses as a protection
against evil spirits and disease. During the Middle Ages in Slovakia, May trees
were placed in front of the church, the Town Hall and the homes of prominent
people as a sign of honor and respect. Soon young men honored their girl friends
with May trees to show that their intentions were sincere. In some villages, the
young men honored all of the marriageable young ladies with May trees.
The trees used in
this custom were fir, pine, spruce and later birch. This custom was followed in
all parts of Slovakia. The tallest trees with the straightest trunks and most
beautifully formed crowns were cut down. Some of the young men went too far;
they cut down enough trees to border the walk from the road to the front door of
the house! Soon this was forbidden and only six trees were given to each
community; four were placed by the front door of the church and two by the inn.
In some villages only one tree was ‘planted’. Just before May 1st, a very
tall fir tree was brought to the town square. The young men stripped the bark
from the tree and removed the lower branches leaving a six foot top, which was
decorated with streamers and silk kerchiefs borrowed from the girls. Then they
placed the tree into a hole which they had prepared, filled in the hole with
dirt and tamped the dirt firmly around the trunk. In the middle of the month
they secretly pulled out the tree, removed the faded ribbons and kerchiefs,
redecorated it with fresh ones and replaced the tree in the hole. At the end of
the month the tree was ‘uprooted’. The young men removed some of the twigs,
held them above their heads and danced before the musicians. The girls had to
redeem their kerchiefs and ribbons with money that was used to pay for the tree
In some villages a
young man would place a May tree only in front of the house of the girl he
wanted to marry. At the end of the month, he would replace the tree with a
wooden rake beautifully painted with oil paints. If she took the rake with her
to work in the fields, it was a sign that she felt the same toward him.
took place in May. This was the month for courting.
This story was taken from ROK VO ZVYKOCH NášHO ľUDU by Emilia Horváthová, translated by Zlata Tuhy. Published by Tatran, Bratislava in 1986.