Dance into May

April. April is often indecisive. That’s one of the things that makes bidding April and its capricious weather adiéu all the sweeter. Germans are so relieved when May finally arrives, that the first day of the month has been declared a national holiday and, in many parts of the country, there is a tree devoted to the month of May around which people gather and celebrate.

At some point we asked ourselves: where does the term Wonnemonat (used in reference to the month of May) even come from and does May really live up to the festive standards the term implies?

Roots in old German

But before we get to these questions, we turn the clocks back to Germany in the 10th century, where the term Wonnemonat supposedly originated. According to old folklore, the term came from the Old German language as it existed from the 8th to 11th centuries. At that time people still spoke of winnimanod, which actually meant something more like pasture month. A reminder to the farmers that it was peak time to herd cattle back onto the pastures. The Wonnemond is – according to Duden – already a Early Modern High German transformation of the word winnimanod.

Finally spring

At some point winni became wunni, which according to literary scholar Prof. Dr. Bernd Balzer of the Freie Universität Berlin means enjoyment and pleasure¹. And there we have it—we’re already reached a name that expresses merriment in regards to the month of May. The merry month of May, or Wonnemonat, sees the cold off and welcomes the care-free joy of spring once again. Ah yes, glorious indeed is this May!

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