Sir James George Frazer > The Golden Bough > Page 132
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Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).  The Golden Bough.  1922.

Page 132
 
in procession and headed by a King and Queen. Two boys carry a May-pole some six or seven feet high, which is covered with flowers and greenery. Fastened to it near the top are two cross-bars at right angles to each other. These are also decked with flowers, and from the ends of the bars hang hoops similarly adorned. At the houses the children sing May songs and receive money, which is used to provide tea for them at the schoolhouse in the afternoon. In a Bohemian village near Königgrätz on Whit-Monday the children play the king’s game, at which a king and queen march about under a canopy, the queen wearing a garland, and the youngest girl carrying two wreaths on a plate behind them. They are attended by boys and girls called groomsmen and bridesmaids, and they go from house to house collecting gifts. A regular feature in the popular celebration of Whitsuntide in Silesia used to be, and to some extent still is, the contest for the kingship. This contest took various forms, but the mark or goal was generally the May-tree or May-pole. Sometimes the youth who succeeded in climbing the smooth pole and bringing down the prize was proclaimed the Whitsuntide King and his sweetheart the Whitsuntide Bride. Afterwards the king, carrying the May-bush, repaired with the rest of the company to the alehouse, where a dance and a feast ended the merry-making. Often the young farmers and labourers raced on horseback to the May-pole, which was adorned with flowers, ribbons, and a crown. He who first reached the pole was the Whitsuntide King, and the rest had to obey his orders for that day. The worst rider became the clown. At the May-tree all dismounted and hoisted the king on their shoulders. He nimbly swarmed up the pole and brought down the May-bush and the crown, which had been fastened to the top. Meanwhile the clown hurried to the alehouse and proceeded to bolt thirty rolls of bread and to swig four quart bottles of brandy with the utmost possible despatch. He was followed by the king, who bore the May-bush and crown at the head of the company. If on their arrival the clown had already disposed of the rolls and the brandy, and greeted the king with a speech and a glass of beer, his score was paid by the king; otherwise he had to settle it himself. After church time the stately procession wound through the village. At the head of it rode the king, decked with flowers and carrying the May-bush. Next came the clown with his clothes turned inside out, a great flaxen beard on his chain, and the Whitsuntide crown on his head. Two riders disguised as guards followed. The procession drew up before every farmyard; the two guards dismounted, shut the clown into the house, and claimed a contribution from the housewife to buy soap with which to wash the clown’s beard. Custom allowed them to carry off any victuals which were not under lock and key. Last of all they came to the house in which the king’s sweetheart lived. She was greeted as Whitsuntide Queen and received suitable presents—to wit, a many-coloured sash, a cloth, and an apron. The king got as a prize, a vest, a neck-cloth, and so forth, and had the right of setting up the May-bush or Whitsuntide-tree before his master’s yard, where it

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