Czech celebration of Love

For most people, the first day of May celebrates the achievements of workers and it is called Labour day. However, in the Czech Republic, May 1st is also the day on which Czech people celebrate Love.  This tradition has been existing for centuries, long before the introduction of the well-known Valentine ’s day.   coeur There are a few things lovers are supposed to do on May 1st. For example, they should kiss under a blossoming tree, but not any tree: a cherry tree or a birch! If a girl is not kissed, it is said that she will wither and die in twelve months! This is a bit scary, don’t you think?

Karel Hynek Mácha statue
Karel Hynek Mácha statue

Usually, in Prague, couples meet on the Petrin hill where they can kiss in front of the statue of the poet of love Karel Hynek Mácha, who wrote the famous poem “Máj”. This well-written composition is telling the tragic story of two lovers and it is considered as a masterpiece of the Czech Romantic period. It is said that kissing in front of Karel Hynek Mácha’s statue will make one’s love as strong as the stone!

Karel Hynek Mácha: Máj (May)                          Beginning verses, translation by Edith Pargeter

Byl pozdní večer – první máj – večerní máj – byl lásky čas. Hrdliččin zval ku lásce hlas, kde borový zaváněl háj. O lásce šeptal tichý mech; květoucí strom lhal lásky žel, svou lásku slavík růži pěl, růžinu jevil vonný vzdech. Jezero hladké v křovích stinných zvučelo temně tajný bol, břeh objímal je kol a kol; a slunce jasná světů jiných bloudila blankytnými pásky, planoucí tam co slzy lásky. Late evening, on the first of May – The twilit May – the time of love. Meltingly called the turtle-dove, Where rich and sweet pinewoods lay. Whispered of love the mosses trail, The flowering tree as sweetly lied, The rose’s fragrant sigh replied To love-songs of the nightingale. In shadowy woods the burnished lake Darkly complained a secret pain, By circling shores embraced again; And heaven’s clear sun leaned down to take A road astray in azure deeps, Like burning tears the lover weeps.

There is also another tradition involving single men. Indeed, the night before May 1st, single men go to the woods to cut a tree. They remove the branch and decore the trunk with different things such as scarves, ribbons, and flowers. Then the maypole is erected in the village square and guard it during the night because men from the surrounding villages intend to steal it. If the maypole is not stolen, single men are allowed to go to single women’s houses and give them little presents. On the evening, they all celebrate May at the ball.

Nadya Dyakova