Birch trees at the Duck’s Pond (Ententeich) in the Hepstedt meadows (Germany). I have chosen this picture for two reasons. First of all, I finally wanted to dedicate a picture to the area where I grew up and spent the most time of my life so far. Secondly, birch trees are closely connected to a lot of May traditions in (Northern) Germany and since it is May I thought it would be a good idea to post this picture now.
The Ententeich is a small pond in the Hepstedt meadows which I remember from being younger because I went ice scating there. Later I cycled to the pond with my dad and on my own a few times. I’ve been there again a couple of years ago and it was almost dried out and fairly overgrown. The picture is taken close to the pond. It is still a nice destination for a walk or cycling tour. I’ve always enjoyed the Hepstedt meadows. Close by are also two other small lakes and a small nature reserve. The roads leading to the pond are mainly tarmac and gravel and allow good access.
About the traditions that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Walpurgis Night is the day before May Day and involves amongst other older and younger traditions dancing around a birch tree. Even though most people don’t dance around a birch tree any more, they go out and celebrate and event locations are often decorated with birch tree branches or smaller trees.
Later in May or early June there is Whitsunday. A day that apart from religious traditions also has the tradition of planting a birch tree for young and unmarried girls or women. From the year after their confirmation until they get married or become 30 years old, young men from the village plant a birch tree in front of the girls house the night before Whitsunday. No, not every German family has plenty of birch trees growing in their garden… The young men fell the birch trees and dig a whole in the family’s front garden where the tree is ‘planted’. The next day they come to ‘water’ it and sing a traditional May song. As reward or thank you they receive drinks. Most of the girls join in when the group carries on to the next trees. The group grows, people get drunk and traditions less… This tradition has survived in the smaller villages but some decided to only plant trees for girls up to 25, etc. since more and more people get married later or not at all and there would otherwise be to many trees to be ‘watered’… In some villages businesses get a tree, too.
Birch trees symbolize fertility through history and traditions. For me personally, trees getting green again has always been the sign that winter is finally over :).