May Day, A Forgotten Tradition?

As a child growing up in a small’ish rural community in Nebraska, I remember with fondness the fun and excitement that was “May Day”. I am astonished how many people have no idea what I’m talking about when I’ve brought this up in my adult years and I have to wonder, is this a lost tradition? Was it a tradition only known in certain areas of the nation? Both?

For those of you who don’t know, or who have forgotten after all these years, May Day presented an opportunity to share treats with the ones we love AND add a whole lotta fun in the mix. In the days leading up to May 1st we would spend time putting together May Day Baskets with little treats in them. They weren’t fancy or complex, usually a disposable cup of some sort filled with sweets or other inexpensive treasures. Then, when May Day arrived (on May 1st) the fun really began!

I always remember May Day landing during the week, which is obviously impossible, but that’s how the memory is stamped in my head. So, anyway, school would let out and we would race home to get the festivities started. Mom and Dad would load us up in the car and drive us around to the homes of our friends and family (unless they lived in our neighborhood, in which case, we set out on foot). They would drop us off and park just down the street. We would set the basket on the doorstep, ring the bell, and dash off. The recipient of the May Day Basket (if they were home) would race after us, and if caught, we were met with kisses, hugs or pinches — depending on who caught us. My grandmother handed out the sweetest hugs and kisses. I’m certain my cousins (who were all boys with exception of one) relished in pinching!

This would continue, one house after another, until all the baskets were delivered and then we would return home…usually to a wonderful pile of treats others had left for us on our doorstep while we were out. But, maybe the best part was when my grandmother brought one to me and I got to chase HER!

Every year when May 1st rolls around I remember this tradition and wish I had thought of it sooner so I could give life to it once again (or bring it to the area in which I now live, where people look at me as though I’m speaking a foreign language when I talk about “May Day”). I will have to set a reminder on my calendar for next year, so I can remind us all well in advance and we can get our ducks in a row and make May Day a ‘thing’ once again!

I promise if you have younger children, and you make this a tradition in the years to come, it will be one they won’t forget! Honestly, it’s right up there with Trick or Treating…maybe even better!

In honor of May Day, here is a treat for you from my garden. Spring bulbs make their appearance and warm my heart — I hope they will do the same for you.


Happy May Day!


  1. Marian says:

    I love that you remind us of this fun tradition.I grew up in Omaha and then primarily Kansas City and we certainly celebrated May Day. We wove very simple little baskets with colored paper then put flowers in them.I remember having to apologize to our very nice neighbor for snatching her bounty of spring flowers….much prettier than ours.Ironically her name was Mrs.Spring! She ended up giving us a cookie and said she was happy we shared them with others. Hilarious that she even received some of her own flowers in the basket we left her…with stems too short for use…but that’s the way neighbors use to be. I’m certain she was disappointed to lose her lovely blooms but we never would have known it! We set our finished baskets on porches, rang the doorbell or knocked on doors of the houses without doorbells, then ran and hid hoping to watch the recipient’s delight. We only left baskets as far as we could walk, but back then you knew all your neighbors so you had your work cut out for you in your own neighborhood. It was a fun tradition that is a shame we have lost. My husband was born and raised here in Albuquerque. Dressing up for school that day and doing the intricate May pole dance was his best memory and he too made May baskets…although I can’t imagine those naughty boys doing that!. It’s wonderful to have a special occasion to mark that the earth is awake and flourishing after its long winter’s sleep and all that means to children. In the 1950s it meant school was soon out and endless days of playing outside in the neighborhood. You protested having to go inside for lunch and dinner and dreaded the porch light going on signaling that day’s fun had come to an end and it was time to go home. What WONDERFUL memories and what a perfect time it was to be a child. So Hilary, your flowers are so so beautiful. If I lived close to you and snatched your tulips for May Day, not to give away but to place in a vase on my dining room table would you be like Mrs.Spring and give me a cookie? Happy May Day everyone!

    • Better you snatch up my spring flowers and share with others than the deer who ate off every tulip in the front yard before they even had a chance to bloom! And, yes, I’d give you a cookie!
      Thanks for your thoughts, Marian!

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