Posts Tagged ‘may day’


Photo: Bryn Mawr College
Students dance around the May pole as part of an ancient spring tradition. A local men’s college used to try to steal May poles in the dead of night. One year a May pole ended up in a swimming pool.

As important as International Workers Day is, please don’t forget about the ancient May Day, the one that welcomes spring with flower baskets deposited at doors and with dances that weave ribbons around a May pole. It’s sweet and fun.

My children used to leave little bouquets of violets and daffodils and tulips on neighbors’ doorsteps. A babysitter showed us how to make baskets using wallpaper from discontinued sample books and a stapler. The kids would ring a neighbor’s bell, then run and hide. If anyone asked us later whether we knew anything about the nice flowers they found outside their door, we always said we had no idea what they were talking about. Which made it pretty obvious, actually.

I remember Mrs. Pulhamous saying to me, “Oh, I’m going to be so sad when your children grow up!”

Recently, I was sorting through files and was reminded that when Suzanne was in Girl Scouts, we made baskets for retirement home residents and received very sweet thank-you notes. I still think the Girl Scouts would be a good organization to carry on the tradition.



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My mother had me celebrating May Day from an early age (you leave a basket of flowers on a neighbor’s doorstep, ring the bell, then run and hide), and I continued the custom when Suzanne and John were small. (Mrs. Polhemus down the street said to me once, “Oh, my Dear, I’m going to be so sad when your children grow up!”)

But I have felt in recent years that nobody knows about May Day anymore, unless it’s the May Day of the labor movement. Not even florists promote it.

So imagine my delight when Alden posted on Facebook a Happy Lei Day greeting today! It turns out that something like May Day lives on in Hawaii.

Alden, a native Hawaiian, routinely posts the glorious flower photos of Nate Yuen, Commissioner of Natural Area Reserves System Hawaii. Today he linked to the beautiful lei below.

I was intrigued to learn that it took just one person to start the Lei Day tradition (proving that “one and one and 50 make a million”). Here’s what Don Blanding said about it in Hula Moons (quoted in Hawaiian History):

Along in the latter part of 1927 I had an idea … I told the editors of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the paper on which I worked. They agreed that it was a good idea and that we ought to present it to the public, which we proceeded to do. It took hold at once and resulted in something decidedly beautiful. …

Hawaii observed all of the mainland holidays as well as those of a number of the immigrant nationalities in the Islands. But there was no day that was peculiarly and completely Hawaii’s own; that is none that included all of the polyglot population there.

So, the bright idea that I presented was, “Why not have a Lei Day?” Let everyone wear a lei and give a lei. Let it be a day of general rejoicing over the fact that one lived in a Paradise. Let it be a day for remembering old friends, renewing neglected contacts, with the slogan “Aloha,” allowing that flexible word to mean friendliness on that day.

Lei Day became an official holiday in 1929. Lei Day celebrations continue today, marking May First with lei-making competitions, concerts, and the giving and receiving of lei among friends and family.”

Here’s a bit more from the Huffington Post: “Giving or receiving a lei in Hawaiian culture carries special meaning. Although the lei has become a popular souvenir to purchase, the true value of the lei is the process that leads up to the finished product. When gifting a lei, one starts with choosing the flowers to be used and then personally strings each blossom with thoughtful purpose for the recipient.” (Interesting. That’s how I pick pictures for my collage cards.)

Photo: Nate Yuen
This splendid lei was made by Brian Choy in 2007.


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Happy May Day, Everyone.

Not to take anything away from other things that get celebrated on May 1, but it’s in the ancient rituals of girls dancing ribbons around poles and secretly leaving¬† baskets of flowers on doorsteps that the deep magic lies.


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Photo: Bryn Mawr College

Happy May Day, the old-fashioned kind that involves surprise flowers and dancing around the May Pole.

This year’s came in like a lion, with icy rain, and is going out like a lamb. Spring can’t be stopped now.

Here are a few photos of the season.















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Today’s mild weather reminds me that May Day and Mother’s Day aren’t far off. Mother’s Day is a highlight of the year at Luna & Stella, Suzanne’s lovely birthstone jewelry company, for which Suzanne’s Mom blogs.

I hope you know about May Day, too. I’d like to see it revived, the ancient custom of leaving flowers at people’s doors in honor of spring. (I don’t begrudge the workers of the world their version of May Day, but they shouldn’t hog the whole thing.)

Why don’t Girl Scout troops do May Day? Why don’t florists? It mystifies me.

I still remember a May basket I made as a kid from a punch-out book. I thought it was a thing of beauty and kept asking my mother to get me another book like that. But they stopped making them.

Now I work from scratch if I have time. Last year I blogged about one kind of a homemade basket, here.

It’s always a surprise to see what flowers are available on May 1 any given year. Since these are in my yard now, I suspect there will be different ones by¬† May.

small rhodadendron

blue scylla



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Does anyone do May baskets any more? It’s such a lovely custom, and it’s always surprising to me that florists don’t promote it. How difficult could it be to partner with a Girl Scout troop or something?

On the first of May, you fill home-made paper baskets with spring flowers, place them at the door of, say, a neighbor, an elderly person, or a teacher and run. As kids, we used to knock and go hide in the bushes to see the look of surprise on the neighbor’s face. With fewer neighbors at home during the day now, the surprise is for the person who gets home from work first.

When Suzanne and John were small, they did May Baskets every year. I remember one neighbor (who had figured out where the basket came from) telling me, “Oh, I’m going to be so sad when your children grow up!” Of course, part of the drill is to pretend you have no idea what your neighbor is talking about.

There is a really simple way to make baskets from pages of discontinued wallpaper books. I’ll tell you if you ask. Here is another way.

(P.S. The birthstone rings are from Luna & Stella.)

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First it was 80 degrees, then it was 20.

Some flowering trees seemed to be OK with that. Others, not so much.

I was pretty confused myself. If all the spring flowers were going to bloom in March, what would be left for a May basket? I do like May baskets.

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