May Day Customs from Times Gone By

Even though the saying is “April showers bring May flowers,” we’ve found plenty of flowers to post about in April.

Still, May Day baskets were a thing at one point. People left paper or straw baskets full of flowers on each other’s porches. Children in the 19th and early 20th centuries would put a basket on a friend’s or neighbor’s porch, ring the doorbell, and yell “May Day” or “May basket” as they ran away. Supposedly, if the recipient of the basket caught the giver, the recipient was entitled to a kiss.

I remember a few May Day baskets left on our porch by my mother’s friends when I was a child. One year, she reciprocated, and my brother and I put the baskets on her friends’ porches, rang the bell, and ran away. We weren’t interested in any kisses that might result.

from the 1905 edition of Jack and Jill, by Louisa May Alcott

I also remember reading about May Day baskets in Jack and Jill, by Louisa May Alcott. (Jack and Jill and Eight Cousins were my favorite Louisa May Alcott books, far more so than Little Women.)

Then there was the year we had a May pole at school. This is another old May Day custom. A May pole is strewn with many-colored ribbons, and girls (usually) in white dresses (usually) hold the ribbons and weave in and out around the pole until the ribbons are tight against the pole.

This custom dates back to pagan days, so why my Catholic grade school had a May pole, I don’t know. We were more often crowning statues of Mary, which is a particularly Catholic celebration in May. I remember several crownings. One year, I had to play my guitar as the school sang, while other girls in my class crowned the statue.

Then again, May Day is also celebrated as May Day International Workers’ Day by socialists, communists, and labor activists. It’s usually a good day for a parade, as well as an occasion to recognize the fight for workers’ rights around the world.

One day, many reasons to celebrate.

What May Day festivities have you celebrated? Are you celebrating any May Day traditions this year?


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