“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” (Aesop, Greek writer who wrote Aesop’s Fables)
Do you remember May Baskets? People “back in the day” would leave a paper basket or cone filled with paper or real flowers, and sometimes candy and nuts, on others’ doorsteps. Children were taught to do this just for the kindness of it. I’m wondering–do folks still make them? I’d love to hear your May Basket memories!
As a child growing up in Wisconsin, where frost and snow on May 1st is not uncommon, I could usually find a few stray dandelion blossoms and maybe even a couple of early wood violets to make a straggly bouquet for my mom, knocking on the farmhouse door and running away. Each year Mom would “ooh and ahh,” exclaiming her “surprise” by loudly wondering, “Who could these be from?” Of course, I suspected she knew it was I; as the youngest, I was the one who still got excited about such things. As the only sibling of five who stayed living in Wisconsin, it was my pleasure to keep the May Basket tradition for my mom through the years–not always on May 1st, but whenever I could make the hour-long spring drive to the old farmhouse; I’d find some stray dandelions and violets to put in a paper cone for mom. If spring was especially early, I’d be able to include a few Lilies of the Valley from my garden walk.
Growing up, each year in elementary school, our teachers taught us how to make some type of May basket—usually decorated paper cones with paper strip handles. In fourth grade, we used milk cartons with tops cut off, with pipe cleaner handles. My 6th-grade teacher brought in a pile of wallpaper samples ripped from an outdated sample book from the local hardware store. We fashioned flowers from construction paper or colored Kleenex (back when tissues came in pastel blue, pink, and yellow.) Students were instructed to give the baskets to someone, especially in need of a day brightener– such as an elderly neighbor or friend recovering from illness.
I know for a fact that at least a few of the big boys ate the Tootsie Rolls, Hershey’s kisses, and peanuts immediately upon leaving the schoolyard that day; I witnessed the boys’ actions from the school bus window, but I hoped at least the paper flowers made it to someone who’d smile at the gesture!
As a Girl Scout leader, my troop coordinated with the local nursing home activities director to deliver May baskets to the residents, a favorite annual project.
With roots in pagan ancient Europe, the May Basket tradition is prevalent in many parts of Europe and the U.S. and was extremely popular throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, especially among children. May baskets were also given to those you hoped might be your sweetheart in earlier days. Author Louisa May Alcott wrote about May Basket Day in New England in her 1880 children’s book Jack and Jill.
From Alcott’s story: “Such a twanging of bells and rapping of knockers; such a scampering of feet in the dark; such droll collisions as boys came racing round corners, or girls ran into one another’s arms as they crept up and down steps on the sly; such laughing, whistling, flying about of flowers and friendly feeling—it was almost a pity that May-day did not come oftener.”
In the desert, where the bright spring blooms are usually attached to prickly cacti, I suppose hand-made paper flowers would make great May basket fillers. But whether the flowers are of paper, dandelions, or store-bought daisies and carnations, the May basket tradition is worth being kept, in one way or another. I suppose with Covid; some creativity might be needed. Share your May basket memories or ideas below! Whether on May first or any other date, kindness is always in season.
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” ― Desmond Tutu (South African human rights activist)
Here’s a link for ideas to craft a May Basket (or spread cheer any day!)