The tradition of May baskets


It’s May Day. Of course it is, because it’s the very first day of this month. Have you ever wondered why we don’t notice February Day or maybe August Day? Or even October Day?

My theory is because the two words rhyme. September Day, for instance, just doesn’t have the same ring to it as May Day.

Celebrating May Day was big in past centuries when it was a pagan festival marking the beginning of spring; think of dancing around a May pole. Now, if we do any celebrating at all, it has much more to do with May Basket Day, which is also marked today. But, like most of the gentle pleasures from simpler times in our culture, May baskets have faded away like the flowers that were traditionally included in May baskets.

May baskets, as I read, traditionally were filled with fresh flowers and some candy. The ones I made as a girl were all edible, with candy and popcorn and maybe a Tootsie Pop filling the basket that was usually made from wallpaper remnant. In some communities a May basket was given to indicate a romantic interest in the recipient; a tradition that also dictated that if the giver was seen leaving the basket on the doorstep of the recipient, then he or she had to reward the giver with a kiss.

That often meant a chase across the lawn that elicited many giggles from both runners. Of course, sometimes you wanted to be caught. The time that happened to me that I especially remember was when I left a basket for my second-grade teacher, who leapt out from behind her back porch door and took off running after me.

When I was doing May baskets, almost everyone lived on a farm. So that meant driving around the countryside to deliver the baskets and trying to keep them from tipping over in the car while doing so. Since May Day fell during corn planting time and my mom was in a support role there, my grandpa was drafted for delivery driving, a chore he enjoyed.

Now, I don’t really like crafts, but I did like making May baskets when my kids were elementary age. My standards were such that I always thought we could do better than just your basic flimsy paper cup with a pipe cleaner handle or none at all, even though nobody else cared.

I suppose one reason May baskets have died out is because we are all anxious about what could be hidden in those baskets. Or about people running across our lawns.

Perhaps we already have enough holidays, ones that are all too often commercialized. I don’t even like to consider what marketing could do to sweet, innocent, traditional May basket day.


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