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After a long cold winter, traces of spring and the promises of sunshine and warmer weather are just beginning to be realized. Along with the arrival of spring comes one of my favorite holidays: May Day.
The history of May Day dates back to pre-Christian Europe as a tribute to Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. It has been celebrated in Ireland since pagan times as the feast of Bealtaine and then as Mary's day, where bonfires are lit to mark the coming of summer and to banish the long nights of winter.
In France, King Charles IX of France received a lily of the valley as a lucky charm on May 1st, 1561. He then decided to offer a lily of the valley each year after that to the ladies of the court. In the Rhineland, in Germany, it is custom for a young man to deliver a tree, covered in streamers, to the house of a girl he loves the night before May 1. Girls usually place roses or rice in form of a heart at the house of their loved one. These testaments of one's devotion are usually done secretly, but the gift giver has the choice of whether or not to give a hint in regards to his or her identity.
The tradition of secretly placing May Day baskets on the doorsteps of our loved ones is one of my favorite traditions that I share with my kids because it provides an opportunity for me to teach my children about the joy of giving without receiving.
We come together every year to choose the flowers and the containers that will hold them, and then we eagerly head out in the early morning of the 1st in order to deliver them. The best part of the experience is watching each child deliver their precious floral bundles with such loving care and concern, but also with such stealth! I love watching their joyful faces as they quickly run back to our car so we can leave before being spotted!
Tips for Making May Day Baskets
Flower Container May Day baskets can be made out of paper or baskets of any size or shape. A May Day basket doesn’t even have to be a basket at all. Use a galvanized pail, a decorative flowerpot, an old milk jar, a petite vase, anything you can think of!
Including a note: You can choose to sign your name or not, but either way, you can include a special note, quote Tennyson's poem on the May Queen: You must wake and call me early, call me early, Mother dear; Tomorrow 'll be the happiest day of all the glad new year, or, attach a traditional May Day poem:
The moon shines bright, and the stars give light,
A little before it is day;
So God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a joyful May!
Lucy E. Broadwood and J. A. Fullen Maitland, English Country Songs