When I Got a Maypole
Setting up a Maypole is an old tradition all over Europe though it is slowly disappearing. However, I am one of those who can say that once was given a Maypole.
What is a Maypole?
A Maypole is either a pole or a young tall tree – in Hungary it is mostly a poplar tree – cut out and decorated with colourful ribbons, bunches of flowers and wine bottles. Sometimes they are set up in the middle of the villages or a big square or in a park and young people sing and dance around it. But in Hungary it was also a custom to set up a Maypole during the night in the middle of private gardens where young girls lived. It was a way for young men to let the girl know that they would like to court her. So, those girls who didn’t get any could envy those who did.
When I got my Maypole it happened a long time ago. At that time I had just finished my studies and started to teach at a secondary school in a small town. The school had a nice, modern building with a kitchen and dining hall, a sports hall with changing rooms and bathrooms, a club for students and a couple of classrooms for on the ground floor. At one end of the building there was a flat with a separate entrance to the school garden to be rented by teachers. So, I rented that flat with another colleague.
On the first floor there was the office of the school principle, the staffroom, several other classrooms and the school library where I worked. On the second floor there was a students’ hostel for boys who came to learn to this school from the neighbouring villages.
Since I operated the library as a source of study and I didn’t only lend books to the kids but also asked them why they were looking for certain books and tried to help them if I could, more and more children visited the school library. I could help them in quite a lot of subjects. Mostly in Literature, Grammar and Languages since they are my subjects but History, Geography, Arts and Biology are not too far from my interest, either. In the hard stuff like Maths, Physics and Chemistry I offered them some books. So, in the afternoons more and more boys left the official study room where the students who lived inside the school had to spend every afternoon from 4–7p.m. to study and prepare for the next school day. They left the study room and they spent this time in the library where they could learn better with the help of all the resource books and with my guidance.
Almost a year passed and the day after May Day when I stepped out of the front door of my rented apartment the first thing I saw was a tall tree in the middle of the little flower bed beside the front door, under my window. My colleague also noticed the tree and she asked, ‘Was this tree always in the garden? I can’t remember it.’ I looked up and I saw the ribbons, a nice bunch of flowers and a bottle in the tree, which was as high as the school building itself. ‘Well, it’s a Maypole but I don’t know how it was set up here and when.’
Then we went to teach with the secret undiscovered. But in the afternoon when I was in the library, the boys seemed rather suspicious. After some questions they confessed that they set up the Maypole in the flower bed that night. They escaped from the dormitory – which was against the school rules: they were not allowed to leave the building after 10p.m. – climbing through the windows and went to the little forest nearby the town to cut the tree. Then some of them climbed up the roof of the school building and pulled the tree upwards with a rope while the others dug it in the earth. But that was not all. After that they went to the principal’s house, took out her gate from its place and threw it in the little stream near the town. A couple of days later I heard the rumour about this incident in the staffroom but I pretended wisely not to know anything about it. Nobody liked the principle – neither the children nor the teachers. And I was sure if she had found out who had done that she would have banned them out of school. So I decided to take the whole thing as if it had been done by a 20th century Robin Hood – expressing the feelings of the ‘poor’ and ‘making justice’.
So, this is the true story of my Maypole and I have kept this secret up to now.