Last May my family—including my three-year-old daughter—attended the local community's Beltane festival and picnic. I was excited—this would be Rose's first Maypole dance! She'd proudly helped me purchase our ribbons at a fabric store prior to the event, and couldn't wait to tie them onto the Maypole crown. Rose's grandmother is a retired elementary school music teacher. Every year she taught the fifth- and sixth-grade girls how to dance around a Maypole. It was time to teach my daughter the "family tradition."
Unfortunately, Rose got tired after a couple of "rounds" around the Maypole, and I ended up carrying her piggyback the rest of the time. Looking around afterwards, I don't think too many of the under-ten attendees lasted until the final ribbon was tied, either. Adults tended to run them over, get impatient when the kids couldn't remember the "the ribbon goes over, then under, then over" pattern (and never mind that half the adults had the same problem!), and it went on so long that the little ones (and those of us who carried them most of the way) were utterly exhausted when it was over. What, I wondered, could be done to make the Maypole dance as much a part of our kids' Beltane tradition as it is ours?
The absolute best and most obvious solution is: give them their own Maypole. Little ones don't mind sitting at the "kid's table" at Thanksgiving until they and the adults decide they're too old; the same arrangement could be made for dancing around the Maypole. Let the older ones (say, age twelve and up) "graduate" to the big Maypole when they feel old enough and tall enough to keep up with the grown-ups.
Here are my tips for making sure a separate kids' Maypole is as successful as the "big" one:
- Make sure the little ones' Maypole dance is at the same time and within sight of the adult's Maypole. Parents of the littlest dancers will most likely join in the kids' Maypole, but encourage attendees who don't have kids to dance around the "little" pole, too! Adults who may feel too out of shape or too old to keep up with the bigger (faster, longer, rowdier) Maypole may welcome a short, slow one. The extra adults will assure the kids that their Maypole is part of the celebration—another benefit! However, if there is not enough room for two Maypoles at the same time, let the kids go first. This will make them feel like their Maypole is special, rather than an accommodating afterthought. Then, let them be "part" of the adult Maypole by singing or clapping along around the perimeter.
- Keep it short. Most community Maypoles I've seen lately are eight, ten, even fourteen feet high! If it takes an adult nearly an hour to weave his or her ribbon, imagine how long it will take for little legs. I recommend making the little ones' Maypole around five feet in height, six feet at the absolute maximum. And definitely insist on satin or grosgrain ribbons from the fabric store only! Little kids tend to pull on their ribbons pretty hard, and the paper ones normally used to wrap presents with will break in no time. Don't forget to go over what each color represents:
Even three-year-old Rose had a definite opinion on what color she wanted. Okay, it was pink (her favorite color), but she still had fun picking it out. Don't expect a particularly balanced Maypole, ribbon-color-wise, with little kids. Most of the girls will want pink and most of the boys will want blue. Or Spiderman red. I wouldn't worry about this imbalance too much.
- Red: strength
- Blue: healing
- Green: home or money
- Yellow: new beginnings, help with a test at school
- Orange: friendship
- Pink: self-love
- Purple or White: spiritual growth
- Have them wear costumes—adult participants, too! If you can, suggest in the event announcement or promotional poster that anyone who wants to participate in the "Kids' Maypole" come in some sort of costume, adults included. Of course, having the crafts available beforehand to make masks or fairy wings will make the Maypole dance that much more special—and fun! Even the tiniest ones can be helped by Mom or Dad to make a special "costume" for the Maypole dance. Mom or Dad can then make one of their own, even if it's just a king's crown or a fairy tiara.
- Let the kids make their own music. "London Bridge," "Itsy Bitsy Spider," and "Old MacDonald" may not be Pagan songs per se (although you could find a connection to something Pagan-y or Witchy with each one), but they're songs everyone knows. Whether the adult Maypole is going on at the same time or the rest of the event attendees are watching the kids skip around the Maypole, they could certainly join in the singing! Also, try to find, borrow or make simple instruments—kazoos, coffee-can drums, homemade rattles, etc. on hand. If the adults' Maypole and the kids' Maypole is done separately, each group can help provide "music" for the other dancers.
Maypole dancing has always been a community celebration. The poles used to be erected in the middle of the village green or town square—accessible to anyone who chose to dance around them come May 1. In a perfect world, "community" includes the elderly and children, as well as working-age adults. There are several historic accounts of everyone from the mayor to the youngest schoolchild taking place in British May Day celebrations. A little pre-planning could ensure that your Beltane celebration captures this same inclusive spirit, and also guarantee that your kids look forward to skipping around the Maypole as much as you do!