My mother and her friend, Wilma Jean, celebrated May Day. No, they did not march through Red Square in Moscow endorsing eighty hour-work weeks for little pay. They kept alive the ancient rite of Northern European pagans welcoming the coming of summer. And really, what smalltown Missouri girl in the forties didn’t love a good pagan ritual?
Here’s how May Day worked:
- Pick wildflowers.
- Make a paper basket.
- Place flowers in the basket.
- Throw in some candy if available.
- Place the May baskets on the porches of neighbors.
- Knock on the door.
- Run like hell.
Number seven was very important. According to tradition, you would have to exchange kisses with the person answering the door if they caught you. This would seem to limit the houses where you would leave baskets. For example, you might skip the house of the track star with exceedingly bad halitosis.
This brings to mind two questions. First, why isn’t there a bluegrass band named Gentlemen’s Breeches? Second, why don’t we all celebrate May Day?
Reasons we should:
- May Day is about giving.
- It’s like Halloween Opposite Day
- If you’re lucky, you’ll return home after delivering baskets to find one left for you.
- Still, giving is much more fun.
- It’s also a good way to get exercise.
- As long as you don’t pull a hammy running away.
- It’s a way to kick off warm weather that does not require a weed eater.
- May Day involves the entire family.
- That four-year-old ain’t gonna drive himself to every house.
- He’s not going to make the baskets either.
- And he’ll quickly get bored picking flowers.
- Still, think of the memories he’ll make.
- Delivering May Day baskets requires sneakiness.
- The anonymity of it means you don’t have to worry about matching the quality of the other person’s gift.
- It’s cheap.
- Everything can be made with materials on hand.
- We need another good holiday.
- Hallmark needs to fill the gap between Easter and Mother’s Day.
- Chances are extremely slim you would be shot by a homeowner.
- Chances are also low that you would be attacked by a pit bull.
- Chances of being shot by a pit bull with an assault rifle are just short of nil.
- A pit bull might appreciate a good May basket, if you throw in a Milkbone.
- Upwards of three percent of the population does not suffer from wildflower allergies.
Mom passed on the May Day tradition to her children. I loved it. When it was just my older brother and me, we lived in Iowa surrounded by Andersons, Hendersons, Sigmunds and other farmers with Scandinavian sounding names. Many of them would have been familiar with May Day. Some of them may have danced around a maypole or two in their younger days. Finding May baskets on their porches wasn’t so strange. The May baskets we made were actually paper cones made from wrapping paper. It took a lot of flowers to fill the cones, so we filled them with popcorn, mixing in a few dandelions and violets. That’s right, we gave away our weeds. We made up for that by adding butterscotch and peppermint candy.
When I was five, we moved to a small town in northwest Missouri. May Day came around, and we delivered May baskets again. That’s what everyone did on May 1, right?
A year later we moved to another small town. (I think Dad shot a man in Reno, and we were trying to stay ahead of the Law.) May 1 arrived. We delivered May baskets. So what if no one had brought May baskets to our house? That wasn’t the point. We loved giving and sneaking.
Two years later, we moved again. Hooray! It’s May Day again! By this time, I was a few weeks away from my ninth birthday. Jeff, my brother, was about to turn ten. We were on the cusp of getting too old for May Day, but not quite. Our younger sister was four—old enough now to enjoy the wonder of May Day. We now lived close to our grandparents. We would deliver baskets to them and to our neighbors. My brother also left a basket on the doorstep of a girl he was sweet on. “La la la la la, life is grand. Everybody loves May Day!”
No, they didn’t. Maybe they would have, it they had known about it. But they didn’t.
What in God’s good name are those strange Smith kids doing? Leaving popcorn and weeds on people’s porches? Wrapped up in old Christmas wrapping paper, no less. Their garbage can must be full. They haven’t got the sense of a garden slug. Boy, I knew they were odd ducks the day they moved here. This proves it. Bunch of loonies.
That year was the last year we celebrated May Day. But I miss it, and I want to bring it back.