For a short time when I was very young, we lived near Omaha, Nebraska. I remember one of my favorite activities came on May 1 – making May Day baskets. My mom would help my brother and I create paper or cardboard baskets and decorate them with lace and ribbons. We’d stuff the baskets with flowers and small gifts and then hang them on the doors of friends and neighbors, ring the doorbell and then run away.
This rather unusual custom of leaving May baskets on doorsteps and dancing around Maypoles began as a pagan celebration of the halfway point of the year. During the middle ages, every English village had a Maypole. Puritans outlawed the celebration in the 1600s, but they were unable to suppress it completely.
Early settlers brought the tradition into the New World, but Puritan colonists forbade the practice. Some, such as colonist Thomas Morton, continued the practice anyway. In 1627, Morton erected a Maypole and invited colonists to dance in celebration. The nearby Plymouth Puritans were outraged, and Morton was arrested and deported in 1630. His colony, Merry Mount (near the present-day neighborhood of Merrymount in Quincy, Massachusetts), was dissolved.
Perhaps because of those early Puritan colonists and their disdain for the rituals, May Day never really caught on in the US. In some cities, such as Minneapolis and New Haven, parades and festivals still take place, but for the most part – it’s probably not a good idea to leave baskets of flowers on doorsteps (unless you live in an area where it is a common practice). You can, however, celebrate all that May 1 brings – the opening of farmers’ markets, flowers in bloom, and warm sunshine – by bringing a little “May” into your apartment.
Arrange some flowers in a vase or basket and set them on your kitchen table or on an end table. You can make your cut flowers last longer by periodically cutting the stems and by keeping fresh, clean water in the vase. If you want something that will last longer, consider an indoor flowering plant, such as a hardy African violet.
Add a touch of the season to your décor by covering a chair or your couch with a flower-patterned slipcover. Or, create a colorful accent wall with temporary wallpaper that can easily be removed. Toss some cheery, patterned pillows onto your couch or brighten up your kitchen with a fresh coat of paint. If you have a balcony or patio, arrange clay pots filled with colorful petunias, impatiens, and geraniums to the space.
Even though May Day isn’t an official holiday, it is the beginning of beach, vacation, and swim season. It means that long, lazy summer days filled with backyard barbecues and family picnics are just around the corner. So go ahead and celebrate with flowers, fun, and perhaps even a little dancing.