The Songs of May – the Maggiolate of Tuscany

May is an important month in Tuscany and it’s no coincidence that one of the most important fixtures in Florence’s arts calender – the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is held in May. The historical roots of the May festivities reach back for centuries right to pagan festivals that celebrated the arrival of spring.

Ben venga maggio
E ‘l gonfalone selvaggio!
Ben venga primavera
Che vuol l’uom s’innamori

Welcome May
And the wild banner!
Welcome Spring
That bids us to fall in love

With this verse, “Ben venga maggio”, the 15th century poet Agnolo Poliziano heralded the arrival of spring. And on the joyous notes of this song we’d like to tell you a bit about May in Tuscany.

May celebrations began on the evening of April 30 when work stopped and the streets of the city filled with songs, dances and banquets. The festival of May followed, on the first of May (the calend of May or first day of the Roman month) and the festivities continued for the entire month.

The etymology of the word May derives from an ancient divinity – Maja – the mother of Hermes. The festivities of this goddess of agricultural fertility were added to via the influx of Nordic populations which introduced the tree to the festival, a symbol of regeneration, that still has its place in the Maggiolate parades today.

During these parades groups of the “cantamaggio” and of the “maggiaioli” who sung the serenades were preceeded by a young person who carried the majo, a flowering branch decorated with bows and ribbons that represented springtime.

Alongside the sung maggio, there were the May dramas with various fictional, historical and classical theatre pieces. Something of this tradition has remained in the countryside, where even today, the arrival of spring is celebrated in the area of the Mugello and Maremma on particular. Here groups of young people on the night of April 30, go from house to house and into the courtyards of the farmers singing and playing to announce the new season. The teams of Maggerini are made up of at least four members; a poet, a tree bearer, a joker and someone on the piano accordion.

The poet is the undisputed head of the team, who is charged with improvising in rhyme, the alberaio, or tree bearer carries the laurel tree, decorated for the season, a symbol of abundance and good luck for all farmers. The corbellaio or basket bearer is the cheekiest of the group, who collects offerings from their audience in his wicker basket. The proceeds from the performance go towards a party for the maggiaioli and those who have donated, and in fact anyone who wants to participate.

May Day is a festival to bring good fortune to the new season, that serves to remove the memories of the cold and hardship of winter, leaving space for the sunny days of spring. It is the party for all that makes our very soul happy to song, dance, love, feasts and theatre…and it has always been the opportunity to gather together and for a little romance too. In fact during the Calendimaggio of 1274 the Florentine poet Dante, then a child of 9 years, met Beatrice for the first time. She was the daughter of the wealthy Folco Portinari, who had invited the neighbours to celebrate May Day in the family house, including the Alighieri family. And there the young girl became Dante’s muse for his entire life.


The Maggiolata are poems with musical accompaniment that were sung during May festivals.

Maggio Musicale Fiorentino May Music Festival in Florence

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Commenti (1) | February 26, 2010

One Response to “The Songs of May – the Maggiolate of Tuscany”

  1. YabasYabas Says:
    November 17th, 2011 at 17:50


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