maypole

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maypoles. Ancient fertility emblems, brought in ceremonially from the woods on May Day, erected on village greens, and decorated with flowers as central features during festivities. Permanent poles were usually very tall. According to Stow, one London pole in Aldgate ward out-topped the adjacent church's steeple, hence St Andrew the Apostle being renamed St Andrew Undershaft; after the 1517 apprentice riot it remained hooked under house eaves along Shaft Alley until residents burned it in response to a sermon denouncing it as an idol (1549). Reviled by puritans because of associations with paganism and immorality, maypoles were forbidden in 1644, but reappeared after the Restoration for May Day or Oak Apple Day (29 May) celebrations. The shorter poles used today for plaited-ribbon dances are a late 19th-cent. import.

A. S. Hargreaves

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may·pole / ˈmāˌpōl/ (also May·pole) • n. a pole painted and decorated with flowers, around which people traditionally dance on May Day, holding long ribbons that are attached to the top of the pole.

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maypole a tall pole, traditionally decorated with flowers or greenery and often with painted spiral stripes, set up on a green or other open space, around which people dance during May or springtime celebrations; in the 17th century, it was one of the symbols of secular revelry particularly disliked by Puritans. The tradition of dancers holding long ribbons attached to the top of the pole dates from the 19th century.