May Day brings fond memories – and flowers

By Joanne Peterson | May 01, 2014

Every May 1st I think back to my childhood when May Day was a big deal in the neighborhood. Have kids today heard of May Day? Perhaps not. Do kids today know what a May basket is? Maybe not. But during my elementary school years, May Day was almost as exciting as a holiday, because of the old tradition of making and giving May baskets.

On the first day of May, for a classroom art project, we sometimes designed and created May baskets, which we took home after school, carefully concealing them from our mothers. If we wanted to make more than one, we’d hurry home, go to our rooms, close the door and hastily create another basket or two. (I needed three—one for my mother, one for my grandma and one for Mrs. Moy, who lived next door.)

May baskets created at school often were cones shaped from brightly colored construction paper decorated with crayons or with carefully cut, pasted-on embellishments. A double-folded construction paper handle completed the project.

May baskets I made at home often started out as square wooden berry boxes—my grandpa always had those on hand, saved for his crops of summer raspberries.

I’d fashion handles out of braided kitchen string or bits of picture-hanging wire—whatever sturdy material I could scavenge. Finally, I’d color or paint designs on the boxes. The construction of the May baskets was Step One of the tradition.

Step Two required picking flowers and filling the baskets with colorful blooms. I had to accomplish this task without attracting the attention of my mom—which was sometimes a problem. My mother (and the mothers of most of my classmates) did not work outside the home. Consequently, at any moment, she might look out the kitchen window and see me scuttling about picking flowers. I could not let that happen!

By May 1st, my mother’s pansies and primroses were in full bloom, as were the blossoms on plants my grandma called “boy-girl” plants, slender stems topped with a pink blossom and a blue one. Anything that bloomed, I’d pick! I’d fill part of the May basket with grass and then tuck flowers into the grass until the basket was stuffed with blossoms.

Step Three—the most exciting step—involved creeping around the corner of the house, running up the front stairs, hanging the basket on the doorknob, ringing the doorbell and running back down the stairs. I’d hide out of sight but within earshot, so I could hear my mother’s happy exclamations when she opened the door.

Next I’d run to the back of the house, up the steps to my grandparents’ apartment, and repeat the process. Then I’d run next door to the Moys’ house for my third delivery.

My own children made May baskets, too, and delivered them to my front door. I hope they remember the pleasure of that simple activity. Perhaps I’d better check to be sure my grandchildren know about May baskets. If not, their grandmother could teach them.

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