School’s out in Aarau, northern Switzerland. As has been the tradition for more than 400 years, excited schoolchildren of all ages have celebrated the Maienzug (May Parade – don’t worry, all will become clear) by dressing up and working their way through town.
Although the children are the stars of the show, after the parade on Friday morning more than 3,000 children, parents and teachers tucked into a lunchtime feast.
The tradition goes back to the 16th century, being mentioned for the first time in the minutes of a local government meeting in 1587, but something similar had probably been going on for a few decades. Schoolchildren would head to the town hall for a meal at the beginning of the new school intake in mid-January – with masked figures playing all sorts of pranks.
In 1608 this was moved to the beginning of May (hence the May Parade), but teachers and the clergy were increasingly unhappy about the similarities with Fasnacht (carnival) and in 1700 they put an end to what they considered a load of sacrilegious nonsense.
However, so as not to deprive the children of their traditional feast, they decided to link it to another 16th-century custom which involved schoolchildren following musicians into the woods to cut down canes – which would then be used to beat naughty schoolchildren. Games and competitions were then held in the afternoon.
The religious aspects were gradually dropped and the Maienzug developed into a sort of folk festival with musical and theatrical performances.
For about 30 years the action has actually started the night before, on Maienzug Eve, when around 10,000 people congregate in squares, alleys, bars and concert areas, enjoying themselves until the early hours.