Ah, the first of May--is your May basket ready?  In our town, we celebrate May Day with arrangements of cut flowers hung on our doors, competing for ribbons for the best designs.  Our tradition was started by the local garden club in the 1960s, relatively recent compared to the first May Day celebrations.

May Day is thought to be a combination of ancient Roman and Celtic holidays.  The Roman end of April week-long festival, Floralia, was in honor of Flora, goddess of flowers and fertility.   The Celtic  May 1st holiday, Beltane, was a celebration of spring and the reawakening after winter.  Both likely began as agricultural holidays, hoping to ensure the success of the spring planting season.  As the Romans expanded into the British Isles, the celebrations eventually merged. 

May Day was popular in medieval Europe, as villagers went "a-maying," gathering flowers, decorating the town, and enjoying games, dances, and pageants.  The May Queen presided over events, such as dancing around the maypole, wherein participants held long ribbons attached to the pole, and wove the ribbons over, under, and around the pole as they danced, then reversing the steps to unwind.  This has been said to represent  the lengthening days of summer approaching.

May Day was never as popular in America as it was in Europe, as the early Puritan settlers disapproved of such pagan celebrations.   In the early twentieth century, May Day events were common at womens' colleges, in fact, May Day is still on the Bryn Mawr calendar.  For the rest of us,  it seems there is not much left of May Day traditions in this new millenium.  There are still tales of small communities around the country that celebrate in a fashion that seems part Valentine's day and part backwards Halloween. 

Small baskets are fashioned out of paper cones or plastic cups with hangers attached.  These are filled with popcorn, small candies, and flowers.  The May Day-er then surreptitiously hangs the basket on the front doorknob of the May Day-ee (those are completely unofficial terms I just made up, but you get the point).  Then, the May Day-er rings the doorbell and runs away.  In case you thought the fun was over at that point--oh, no!  If the May Day-ee catches the May Day-er before they escape, they should kiss them.  Grandmas tell of past May Days, admitting to running away a little slower from the home of a boy they liked.  Well, I think this fun should be revived--we could all use a little more sweet & gentle kindnesses in our lives.  Try making up a few little May baskets with your children, and deliver them together to a few of your favorite neighbors.  A few inexpensive items will provide priceless memories--and maybe all the love will spread!  How fast you run is completely up to you.