Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day! May Day! May Day is a fading rite of spring

It might be the only day it’s appropriate to knock on your neighbor’s door and dash away.

However, you have to be quick.

It’s a tradition I grew up with here in rural Kansas. My mother and I would make cone-paper baskets and fill them with fresh-cut flowers from around our home, as well as homemade cookies. I’d creep up to the neighbors’ doors and ring the bell and hide, thinking they surely couldn’t fathom that it was the little, brown-haired, four-eyed girl from next door who had left them a gift each May 1.

Yet fewer children these days know of the tradition of leaving a construction-paper basket filled with flowers and cookies on someone’s doorknob then running for cover.

The centuries-long spring custom of May Day, it seems, is fading away.

“It makes me sad it might be a custom going in fashion,” said Karen Madorin of Logan, who recently talked about the disappearing annual rite on her blog and during her Saturday program on High Plains Public Radio. “It’s a tradition I had growing up.”

The May Day tradition, after all, is steep in history – the reasoning for the celebration lost years after our European ancestors first settled here, she said. She grew up knowing a little about its rich roots, that it was related to the Gaelic festival of Beltane – a pagan celebration honoring the beginning of the pastoral summer. And, according to several historians, the day is half a year from Nov. 1, another day of neo-pagan festivities.

Historians also associate it with other pre-Christian festivals, such as the festival for Flora, which honored the Roman goddess of flowers.

However, because the Puritans of New England considered May Day to be pagan, “They forbade its observance and the holiday never became an important part of American culture,” according to the 

Encyclopedia Britannica. In the late 1800s, May 1 in many countries honored International Workers Day and the fight for workers rights, including an 8-hour workday.

Nevertheless, the tradition still stayed with some families as they migrated to America and the Midwest. But in my quest to find people who still celebrate, it became difficult. However, I was amazed at the many memories people shared and the excitement in their voices as they recalled the tradition.

Those memories are still being made at my house.

On Monday, my 6-year-old twins, my 1-year-old and I made May Baskets out of construction paper. With the cold April, there are no flowers blooming in my yard, but we baked cookies and the girls filled the cone-shaped baskets with candy.

On Tuesday, we began the tradition of knocking and running although the girls weren't too sneaky. They squealed as they ran from each doorstep - running just far enough away so they could see each neighbor receive his or her gift.

As I watched my girls, the event reiterated something Madorin told me in our phone interview. Put the history of the day aside. It doesn't matter if May Day has a lengthy Paganism tradition or that it has strong political meaning in some countries. May Day is about giving. It's about showing friendship. It's about doing it because you want to, and not expecting anything in return.

But as we walked home from our first day of May Day basket giving, one of our neighbors walked out of her home with her own homemade basket. She gave it to the girls as a thank you. She recalled her own May Day experiences and those of her children.

Maybe the tradition will be revived.

Brett and Kaci ready to deliver baskets.

Brett colors on her cone-shaped basket.

Jordie wants to try to make one, too.

Jordie is 1 1/2.

Kaci and Jordie making baskets.

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