Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day Musings

As the Beltane fires burn high tonight and the earth rises to meet the passions of spring, I begin NaBloPoMo*, a commitment to post every day through the month of May. Thirty-one posts in thirty-one days. This is the third time I've done NaBloPoMo, and I have to admit, it's not easy to keep up. But I've done it twice and I can do it a third time. I've got a lot to say this month about cookies, vaginas (what's one without the other?), and life through the eyes of a crazy redhead, but if you have a topic you'd like me to explore, please feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment.

I feel rather nostalgic today. In the small Iowa town I grew up in, we celebrated many Pagan rituals -- Yule logs, fall bonfires, and May Day.

Every year we danced the Maypole  in gym class, winding and weaving long colored ribbons in a basket-weave pattern and then unwinding again--boys and girls together. I don't remember what it was supposed to mean, but I'm pretty sure nothing was said about the sexual aspect of Beltane.

After school all the kids in town ran home to make May baskets created out of construction paper cones, or those little pleated paper candy cups used to hold nuts and candy for baby or wedding showers, or paper Dixie cups with pipe cleaner handles, and then filled them with popcorn, small candies, and maybe even violets or dandelions we picked in the backyard. Once the baskets were made and filled, the hanging began.

Early in the evening, Mom would drive my brothers and sisters and me around town so we could deliver our baskets to our friends. We couldn't deliver baskets to everybody we knew, so only our top five or six friends got them. It was a hard decision sometimes whether to hang a basket on the door of someone who was already a friend or someone I wished I was friends with.

We would pull up to the friend's house, and I would run to the front door, hang the basket on the doorknob or set it on the porch, ring the doorbell, and then run as fast as I could back to the car. If the friend was home, and not out delivering baskets herself, she would chase me and try to catch me. If she caught me before I touched the car, I had to let her kiss me. Of course, if the friend was home, she was waiting right beside the door for someone to ring the bell, so I had to sneak up so I wouldn't be caught in the act of hanging.

I don't remember ever delivering baskets to boys -- because of the kissing, of course. I don't think my mom would have let me, and it certainly would have made a statement about who I had a crush on. No, girls delivered to girls and boys delivered to boys ..... or at least that's the way I remember it. Hmmm. Boys must have been kissing boys in my hometown on May Day. Maybe that's why Iowa is one of the pioneers in gay marriage.

Anyway, the only downside to delivering May baskets was that baskets were delivered while we were out delivering,  so we didn't get a chance to try to catch everybody. We tried to deliver our baskets as fast as possible so we could go home and wait for baskets to be delivered so we could try to catch and kiss our friends.

I assumed the May basket ritual was performed by kids all over the country until Drake was old enough to do it himself. We lived just north of Boston for 10 months. He was 4, and we made May baskets, filled them with candy and flowers, and took them over to his little neighbor friends' house. He hung them on the knob, knocked on the door, and ran like mad when they came to the door. They just stood there staring at him like he was crazy. Ooops. By the time I explained the ritual to their mom, it was a little late for the chasing and the kissing. I was more disappointed than Drake was.

Turns out not everybody grew up celebrating May Day with candy, flowers and kisses. I miss that. As I've gotten older and reclaimed those Pagan roots as my own, the Beltane fires have taken on deeper, more adult meaning. Maybe someday somebody will hang a May basket filled with cookies on my door, ring the bell and run ...... a girl can hope, right? (Hey, my mom can't stop me from kissing boys now.)

How about you? Did any of you deliver May baskets on May Day? Do you do it with your kids now?

* National Blog Post Month. Click on the gadget to the right for more information.


  1. What a fun article. I never heard of the baskets or the fun tradition. I grew up in NYC. We did do the dance with the May Pole with the ribbons...That was fun when I was very little, I am not even sure they do that anymore as often as they did then (heck, my sister is a teacher and they don't have gym every day either.....)

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Winnie. It's too bad if kids don't get to dance the Maypole any more. It was so much fun to look forward to every spring.

  2. I never heard of May baskets. It sounds nice. Good for kids to celebrate. I saw your link on NaBloPomo.

    1. Thanks for coming over from NaBloPoMo, Bindu. Keep writing! :-)

  3. I am very familiar with the custom of May Baskets, but not from my own experience. It features in one of my favorite Louisa May Alcott books, _Jack and Jill_. In their town, the girls construct the baskets, and the boys roam over the countryside to gather flowers to fill the baskets. That particular year it stayed cold late and there were almost no flowers so they had to improvise - but not with candy, it was all plants. They also had to write poems to put in the baskets. They hung them on the doorknobs of friends and also of people they wanted to do a kindness to - like a little old lady. They had to run and hide, but I don't recall a kiss penalty for being caught.

    I always felt gypped that we didn't have that tradition in Beavercreek, Ohio, and I figured it had just died out. I suppose there were places where it survived! I wonder if it's still common in New England.

    By the way, I saw a may pole dance a couple years ago at an elementary school's end-of-year concert. Not exactly May Day, but at least the kids got to do it.

    1. MsS, wouldn't it be fun to do May Day up right next year and get a group to hang May baskets the old fashioned way? I would love to do that again!

      We'll be dancing the Maypole at my church this Sunday. I still get to do that almost every year. It makes me feel like a child again.

  4. We made May baskets in Kansas City when I was little. We hung them on elderly people's doors, not friends. And we filled them with flowers. When we went to Texas, no one did that. And, because our move was not a pleasant one, my mom really wasn't in the mood to keep that tradition alive. :/
    I didn't do it with my kids, for some reason. In spite of really enjoying that tradition. It seemed we were too busy or something. :( I think I did have an aversion to construction paper crafts at the point... so that might have been a factor too.

    1. Sue, now that you mention it, we also took baskets to our elderly neighbors. We didn't expect them to catch us and kiss us though.

      We celebrate May Day at my church every year, so my kids made baskets and danced the Maypole there. I usually dance it too, but I was practicing music for next week when they did it yesterday.