I’m a little late talking about May Day as it’s May 1st today. But because I have so many fond childhood memories of it, I decided to blog about it anyway.
Ask teens today if they plan to celebrate May Day and their eyes glaze over with a blank look. Most have never heard of it at all, at least not it’s true origins.
If they are smart and watch the news they might tell you, that May Day is celebrated in socialist and communistic countries as an International Workers Day. True enough, but so not what I’m talking about.
I had to wonder though, how these socialist and communistic countries came up with the idea of a Workers Day/Labor Day when it comes to May Day. The traditional May Day origins and celebrations had nothing to do with a day of rest for workers.
Or so I thought.
A light bulb came on while reading up on some brief history blogs about ancient May Day celebrations. May Day was a celebration of the coming spring after a long hard winter. Farm workers, field hands etc took the day off to feast and celebrate in the renewal of life.
It’s not a long stretch then to understand how some modern societies in Europe have turned May Day into a Labor Day celebration on which workers take the day off. My theory proved true when I came upon the above link about International Workers Day.
In America, May 1st was at first chosen to be International Workers’ Day/Labor Day to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. Laborers were striking for an 8-hour day. Someone threw a bomb and police commenced firing on the workers killing and wounding several. The above link has more on this.
Then during the Cold War some countries started using May Day to demonstrate their Military strength through parades that included their soldiers and Weapons.
But none of these very serious May Day celebrations have anything to with how I remember May Day as a kid.
The days before May 1st my sisters and I designed simple but creatively decorated May Baskets. The really nice ones were colorful cone-shaped baskets with doilies pasted to them and with pretty ribbon handles.
Inside we might tuck another doily to help hold flowers and goodies. I was born in Iowa and we didn’t always have many flowers because it was still too cool. Instead we’d draw flowers and cut them out to tuck inside the basket or paste on the outside. My mother usually popped popcorn for the bottom layer of goodies. Next came gum drops, hard candies, maybe homemade cookies. Sometimes we’d make a few baskets in school but mostly we made them at home – the fancier the better!
The fun part was coming home from school on May Day to deliver our baskets. We’d hang the basket handles on the doorknob of a friends house [setting them on a porch made them vulnerable to pets.] Once we made sure the baskets wouldn’t spill, we’d knock on the door, shouting Happy May Day. Then we ran like the dickens.
When our friends came to the door to find the basket, there was of course some major squealing going on. And then they’d chase up the street, trying to catch us. If we were caught, we had to endure their kiss. It was hilarious and lots of fun.
Somehow over the years, this tradition has become lost. I imagine it’s like Halloween, parent worry about some maniac poisoning the candy. We moved my kids to Arizona from Iowa, and my kids came home upset to tell me that they didn’t do May Day in Phoenix and in fact their classmates had no idea what May Baskets were!
I was sad to hear it. Sitting around the table and designing a pretty basket for a special friend was good family fun. My kids still wanted to try it even in Phoenix and they hoped to start a new neighborhood tradition. I came up with some colored Dixie cups for them to decorate and we filled them with goodies. Their friends loved the goodies but didn’t know they were supposed to chase the gifters home and kiss them. Sadly, the following year we were forced to let this simple custom fall into obscurity.
No matter what, I will always remember those similar times, making baskets, filling them up, the hugs and kisses and hilarity.
How about you? Did you every deliver May Day Baskets?
Here are some links about ancient May Day and even May Day Baskets in the US.
A Forgotten Tradition May Basket Day – This explains May Basket in the US in much the same way I remember them.