By Helena Rodriguez: PNT Correspondent
Over the past eight decades, the full-hooped vintage style Maypole dresses worn by graduating senior girls at Portales High School have gradually moved from light pastel colors to brighter rainbow hues with more bling.
One thing that has not changed during the span of this long-time tradition which is now marking is 81st year, though, has been the elegance and formality surrounding this memorable affair.
“We love being a part of Maypole so much, being together with our class on this night,” said Alycia Leal dressed in a bright yellow gown shortly before the dress rehearsal on Wednesday night.
“We love being able to carry on this tradition,” added her Maypole partner, Casey Robinson.
Leal and Robinson are among the 28 Maypole couples who will officially wind the Maypole tonight in the PHS gymnasium. No photos and videos are allowed during tonight’s final performance at 8.
When asked what she will remember most about winding Maypole, Leal said, “Getting all dolled up and being able to do it with one of my best friends, my partner being my best friend.”
According to local tradition, young girls ask guys to be their Maypole partners as early as eighth grade. Leal, however, explained that Robinson did not move to Portales until ninth grade and it actually wasn’t until August that they officially became Maypole partners.
While many graduating seniors come from a long line of Maypole winding veterans, there are also many first-timers amongst this year’s class.
Wearing a dusty rose colored gown with a sequin studded neckline tonight, Megan Lyons, the PHS salutatorian, will be the first one in her family to wind Maypole, and yet it was already a family affair. Her mother, Sheryl, was busy before the dress rehearsal on Wednesday night doing last minute pinups to the hem of her dress, which was a little too long. In the girls’ dressing room, Megan said she was not nervous, but excited.
“What I will remember most about Maypole is just getting to dress up and feel pretty for the night,” Lyons said. Lyons is winding Maypole tonight with Nick Bliss. She is among many girls this year who are wearing previously-worn Maypole dresses. Her dress was worn last year by Bethany Self.
Her classmate, Angelica Macias, echoed the same sentiment. Dressed in a light pink gown studded with rhinestones, Macias said, “It’s a big day. I will always remember it!”
Macias’ sister, Griselda, wound Maypole last year. Her Maypole partner is Mario Aguirri.
The number of Maypole winders is down this year over last year.
In 2008, 40 couples wound the Maypoles. There are actually two Maypoles that students wind each year. Maypole coordinator, Marilyn Stratton, attributed the smaller number of Maypole couples to this year’s graduating class being much smaller than last year’s.
The Maypole tradition began at PHS in 1929. Today, Portales is the only high school in the country that has performed this elaborate event for more than eight consecutive decades.
While Maypole is historically a fertility and pagan ritual, the present day custom at PHS is not about this. It has become like a second prom — only much more formal — for graduating seniors.
Today, Maypole is more of a fairytale night that seniors will carry on with them in memory as they graduate from PHS on Friday night at Greyhound Arena.