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Merry month of maypole celebrations circles round again

Kiddie Kollege preschoolers in Patchogue perform a maypole

Kiddie Kollege preschoolers in Patchogue perform a maypole dance for their graduation recital in 2013. Credit: Cheryl Spaccarotella

May is a time for spring flowers, Memorial Day and streamers on poles, also known as May Day celebrations.

The tradition is celebrated in spring with dances around a tall pole adorned with long streamers. Participants grab the end of a streamer and encircle the pole, wrapping the streamers around it as they go. It is a tradition that originated in Europe in the 16th century, and historians have linked it to pagan fertility rituals as well as spring folk festivals. It has been celebrated in schools, homes and elsewhere, from preschools to German folk clubs.

Two years ago, the very young graduates at Kiddie Kollege in Patchogue performed a dance around the maypole as part of their graduation ceremony, which had a "Renaissance Faire" theme. Cheryl Spaccarotella, who operates the preschool her late parents founded 55 years ago, said the girls started out with ballet, circled the maypole and then finished up the dance.

Tradition for many

The maypole is central to many Mayfest celebrations. On May 16 at the Irish American Society in Mineola, it will be at the center of festivities of GTEV Schlierachtaler Stamm, a Bavarian folk dance group founded in New York City in 1928. Bob Hugel, of Floral Park, and his family -- wife Jutta, who is from Germany, and their sons, Erik, Gerard, Raymond and Stefan -- are members of the group, now based in Franklin Square.

Hugel, 57, said he has been a member for about 40 years. His parents, Jerry and Marie Hubel, who died a few weeks ago, were also longtime members -- his father was the group's president for 40 years and his mother was the lead female dancer.

Hugel said he would like to see more people celebrating Mayfest. "It's a celebration of our Bavarian culture, with the music and the dance," he said. "In Bavaria, there's a guy who goes around inspecting the maypoles to make sure they're structurally sound."

May Day birthday

There was probably some inspection going on in a North Massapequa backyard in the 1970s. Gina Brienza was born May 12, and recalls that her mom, the late Ellen Nocero, loved every opportunity to celebrate May Day on her daughter's birthday.

"Since I was a May baby, she would celebrate my birthday party with a maypole for all my friends," Brienza, 48, said. "She would set up the pole with streamers and she would try to direct four of us to go one way and the others to go the other way. But we'd be running into each other and giggling and having a good time. I don't think we ever got it quite right, but it always made me feel like I was born at such a special time of the year. Although my mom passed away many years ago, it is a memory I hold dear."

Brienza, a teacher who lives in Farmingdale, doesn't know yet what she's doing for her birthday next month. But it won't involve a maypole. She said the last party she remembers that featured one was when she was 10 years old.

Richard Schwarz's maypole memories go back to 1932. He sent Newsday a photo of his first-grade class at PS 45 in Ozone Park, Queens. "I am the small boy between the two cute girls in the front," he wrote in an email. To his left was the May queen.

Schwarz, a World War II veteran who served in the Navy, is 89 now and lives in North Merrick. He said he no longer celebrates May Day and doesn't remember much about that school day in 1932, but recalled it must have been a big celebration.

"My mother made the costume," he said. "She used crepe paper; it was brown paper; she cut it out and used glue and fitted it to me."


Like his parents, who died April 10, Bob Hugel of Floral Park has been a longtime member of a Bavarian folk dance group that celebrates the arrival of spring with Mayfest activities. Hugel remembers his parents' roles in the organization and their fondness for the maypole dances:

"My parents, Jerry & Marie Hugel, were members of the GTEV Schlierachtaler Stamm since the 1950s. Jerry was president for 40 years and Marie held various officer positions for over 40 years, including the vortanzerin (lead female dancer) and trachtenmutter (costume mother), which she still held upon her passing. I think my parents' favorite memories were of actually doing the intricate weaves without incident and on the occasions when we were able to use two [may]poles with 20 couples performing simultaneously. This year the club's members will honor Jerry & Marie's memory and continue their legacy by dedicating the maypole performance to them."


Two Newsday readers share their maypole memories.

Kindergarten fun

"We celebrated each May in my kindergarten class in Rosedale. This was in the '60s, '70s, and '80s. Our pole was the 6-foot-tall wooden window pole, with a hook on the top to open high-up windows.

"I attached two stapled-together paper plates, with a hole in the middle, to the hook on top of the pole. Then I stapled about 10 crepe paper streamers around the plate.

"A tall sixth-grader held the pole while I played the piano. Children were picked to take a streamer and skip around the pole as it turned. As years went by we also learned some intricate steps! Of course a new pole had to be made each year."

Clara Kerpen of Valley Stream

Dancing at daughter's wedding

"These maypole pictures were taken at our daughter Michele's wedding July 31, 1988.

"As you can see, family & friends are dancing with the maypole around her. I thought this would be an interesting way to show the maypole."

Zepora Katz of East Meadow

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