Keeping Tradition Alive

In this part of the Netherlands (the Achterhoek), there’s a tradition that when a new building is constructed, and the highest point is reached, then the neighbours will erect a Meiboom (a Maypole) alongside the building. Here’s a translation of the relevant section of the entry in the Dutch Wikipedia:

In addition, it is customary in some parts of the Netherlands (including the Achterhoek and Limburg), that when a newly built House has reached the highest point of the building, a Maypole is placed by it. The maypole also stands for in this case as a symbol for fertility and prosperity. The tree is fetched by local residents from, for example, a neighbouring forest and after the placement, a glass is drunk and a toast raised together. The maypole is sometimes placed on the building, in other cases next to or nearby. In some cases, a permit must be applied for if one wants to plant a maypole.

This is traditionally done when it’s dark, so that the building’s owner doesn’t know what’s going on until it’s too late. The maypole also has to be taller than the highest point of the building. I’ve been told that traditionally, the building’s owner would subsequently use the maypole to make a ladder to reach the roof for putting on the roof tiles, but I suspect that might be apocryphal.

Our nearest neighbour is a dairy farmer, and he’s having a new cattle stall built. Last week, the building frame was complete, and so the highest point was reached.

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Martin and I are his noaste noabers, so we are responsible for organising the rest of the neighbours in his buurt (neighbourhood) to celebrate occasions such as this.

Last Friday afternoon, while it was still daylight, four of us, including myself, met up at a local forester’s, and selected a fir tree that was tall enough to use as a meiboom. It was felled by the forester, and the lower branches were trimmed off. Some were kept for the later making of a wreath that is suspended around the trunk on the meiboom. One of the neighbours had borrowed a large tractor and trailer to haul it back to the neighbourhood.

That evening, the neighbours gathered at our house to prepare the meiboom. It’s the tradition to decorate the meiboom with crêpe paper flowers, so we made dozens of the things. It’s also the tradition that it’s the women who do this, while the men prepare the tree. Martin and I naturally wanted to break down this separation on roles, so Martin and one of the men also set to work on making the flowers. It was noticeable though that the older men refused to break with tradition here!

Later we prepared the tree, by making the wreath, putting it around the tree, and attaching the flowers. A spot was selected next to the cattle stall, and a hole was dug for the tree to be rooted in. When all was ready, we went back to the house for a toast.

Then we brought the tree to the selected spot and erected it in position. Traditionally, this would be done by manpower alone (and I’ve been involved a couple of times where this was done). The tree is gradually raised by pushing ladders under it to make it upright. It requires a lot of men and brute force. We didn’t have a lot of (young) men this time, but what we had was someone who had thought it through. He said that in place of blood pressure, we should use hydraulic pressure. So he fetched a tractor with a fork raise attachment on it, and he used that to raise the tree. It worked wonderfully, and the tree was raised and in position in a couple of minutes.

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Martin then pinned the traditional poem from the buurt onto the tree, and we went back to the house to raise a few more toasts to celebrate. A job well done, and a tradition upheld. We all felt very pleased with ourselves, and the farmer and his wife like the meiboom as well.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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3 Responses to Keeping Tradition Alive

  1. Al Feersum says:

    It would appear that the traditions of the Dutch that we acquired over here from various invasions were transported rather than exported or assimilated, like tiny shoes in the loft, or inhuming a live cat in lieu of cavity wall insulation…

  2. Ludwig says:

    Congratulations to this fine neighborhood! It is gratifying to see such traditions and friendships being carried on. All the best!

  3. Pingback: Celebrating Hetty | Geoff Coupe's Blog

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