Wedding traditions offer richness and color to enrich your wedding ceremony and to transform your life! And what’s more fun is that they can be remade to suit your life.
Consider the maypole. Despite its name, it can be appropriately danced during two whole wedding seasons: late spring and early summer! (it’s a little too cold earlier in the spring and the warm weather later in the year makes us just a bit too indolent for all that exercise!)
What is its traditional meaning? Fertility! Ancient Northern European traditions were not subtle. Spring came and they felt they needed to remind the world to wake up and do what was needed. Fertility was one of the most important things to the survival of a village. They danced the maypole in the fields, because they needed the fields to be fertile. They needed their families to be fertile because large families could gather/raise more food and the child mortality rate hovered at about 50 percent.
But what does it mean to you? Well certainly fertility if you want. There is that tall pole and layers of people dancing, wrapping and unwrapping the pole. (wink, wink, nudge, nudge!) But it doesn’t take much imagination to see that it might also mean the layers of love within which a community enfolds a beloved couple.
- A dance master: Someone should know what’s going on and how to direct it!
- A wide open space: If you’re going to involve your entire community, you must have a lot of room under the ribbons for the first two groups to dance.
- A tall (very tall) pole: if you’re going to have three layers of dancers, the pole needs to be long and it needs to be well secured at the base.
- Pole Decoration: The pole should be decorated at the top. If you have a symbol that you’re using for your wedding include that. Make a wreath of wedding flowers. The bride and groom might wear a smaller version of that wreath.
- Three layers of ribbons: The outermost and most abundant number of ribbons would be the community’s ribbons. The second layer of ribbons, somewhat further down the pole, would be the attendants’ ribbons. The third layer has only two ribbons for the couple.
- Really, really long ribbons: They need to be at least 2x as long as the pole or the place they are tethered on the pole. You may want them longer than usual because you want them to have lots of ends left when they are tied off so they can cascade down the pole. They should only be two or three inches wide.
- Decorate the ribbons: You may decorate the ribbons with bells so that there is the wonderful sound (of fairy laughter!) with the weaving of the dance.
- The community moves forward to take their ribbons and then move back into the circle, holding their ribbons at shoulder height.
- The attendants gather up their ribbons and move as far out as their streamers will take them.
- The couple enters the circle and pick up their (differently colored) ribbons. The music starts and facing in different directions, one partner going counter clockwise (often the woman) and the other going sunwise the couple wraps, unwraps and then wraps their pole, moving to the to an ancient folk song or a morris dancing song. You weave over and under one another’s head, turn by turn to get the pattern right.
- When the pole is wrapped in bridal ribbons and the couple is close enough to the pole to be wrapped in one another’s arms. The attendants then begin their dance around the pole. Wrapping and unwrapping and wrapping again. Weaving over and under. Their ribbons should be different colors from the bridal couple’s so that the symbolism of community enfolding begins.
- When the attendants are standing in a tight circle around the bridal couple, the community then begins its weaving and unweaving. They may only want to weave 4 turns and then unweave 4 turns and then weave until finished.
- When the community has woven itself around the attendants and the couple, the wedding celebrant should offer a blessing. The dance master should then, starting with the outermost circle, tie off the ribbons while the community sends silent blessings to the couple.
You may have too many people to do this well, in which case you may select a smaller number of community members to wrap the pole. But this lighthearted dance can add so much in the way of color to your wedding ceremony, support to your wedding vows and celebration to your marriage. (Oh, if you’re claustrophobic, don’t do this!) Try something new, and enjoy! Your community wants to have a good time at your wedding. Why not let them? And then, because you’ll have the materials, use it at the next couple’s wedding or bridal shower! Save it for a couple trying to get pregnant. Reuse, recycle, revise and rededicate!