This weekend is the festival Majales, (translated from Latin as “May”) which marks the Czech student celebration for the arrival of May and hedonism of student life.
But, before this was a popular musical festival, Majales started as a tradition dating back to the 15th century, with the beginning of the university boom.
Majales was originally a celebration to honor the god of Spring, Maia, among students and teachers. The celebration took place on 1st May and involved all things spring – such as fruits and flowers. It gained popularity in the 19th century and was a space for expressing views between teachers and students who came together. The election of a student as ‘King of May’ who would be a patron for students all year, was also a key part of the feast and parade.
The student festivities also became a political tool for students in times of oppression and so a part of literary history in the 19th century. In Alois Jirasek’s historical Philosophy History, he mentions the student festival in 1847 which were banned but took place in secret.
Majales also became influential in the development of counter culture in the Czech Republic after the communist censorship of the early 1950s. A famous year was 1965, when beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg visited this city and found himself elected the ‘King of May’ by the students of Prague. He was then deported for allegedly corrupting the city’s youth with his poetry he wrote for the festival.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the festival continued to flourish in popularity and culture, with the former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus becoming the first King of spring after the revolution.
Today, the “month of students’’ kicks off with the Majales Parade and building the Majka maypole and is enjoyed by 20,000 students.