Reviving an Old Tradition—May Day Baskets

 In Florals
girl hanging basket on door

May Day baskets were hung secretly on friends’ or family’s doors to cheer up their day. Photograph from Three Scoops of Love.

In just a few more days April will come to a close and we’ll begin one of my favorite months—May. I’ve always loved May because both Mother’s Day and my birthday fall in this month. I also love May because it is such a quintessential representation of spring. Tulips begin blooming, birds start twittering away in the morning, the days get longer, and the sun warms up the afternoons. Now this year, I have discovered another reason to love May—May Day Baskets!

You’ve likely heard the phrase “May Day” when referring to May 1, and maybe even heard it connected with baskets in some way, but did you ever know the history of this quaint tradition? At one point, from the late 1800s until the mid 1900s, the tradition of May Basket Day was a popular way to welcome in spring. People would gather flowers, candies or goodies and put them in little baskets to hang secretly on a neighbor’s or loved one’s door. Suitors might place a little basket on the doorstep of a young girl they wanted to court. It was a sweet way of showing someone you were thinking of them and wanted to brighten their day. Perhaps you remember May Day baskets when you were younger, or your mother had memories of making them when she was a child.

Eventually the May Day baskets tradition faded away, but today, with more people choosing to decorate their front doors beyond the traditional wreaths, we’re seeing cones of flowers and stem-filled baskets acting as door decorations becoming popular. And that has generated some interest again in May Day baskets.

three paper cones with flowers

My three decorated scrapbook cones ready to sneak onto my neighbors’ doors. Photograph from Country Sampler Farmhouse Style / Annie’s Creative Studio.

I recently created several simple May Day baskets by rolling scrapbook paper into cones and decorating them with doilies, embellishments and ribbon. I loved how sweet and adorable they came out, and I plan on making several more to slip a touch of spring on all my family’s and friends’ doors on May 1.

The tradition of the May Day basket made me wonder about other ways to create these little surprises. The amazingly creative world of DIY bloggers proved that ideas are endless. As you can see, you could make May Day “baskets” from glass jars, paper bags, tin cans, berry baskets and more! The essential elements seem to be keeping it simple, brightening it up for spring with ribbons, bows, scrapbook papers or other embellishments, adding a hanger and tag, and of course, filling it with flowers. Check out some of these May Day basket ideas from various bloggers to create some yourself, and let’s bring this delightful old tradition back to life!

–Susan

P.S. If you want to learn more about the May Basket Day tradition, check out this post from NPR.

cone with flowers hanging from door

A ribbon threaded through this cone makes it easy to hang. Photograph from Lillyella.

cone with tulips

Be sure to add a decorative tag to your May Day basket. Photograph from Lia Griffith.

 

glass jar of flowers hanging on door

Glass jars with wire tied around the neck can hold fresh flowers as May Day baskets. Photograph from The Neat Nook.

peat pot hanging from door knob

Small peat pots are sweet ways to share potted flowers. Photograph from The Neat Nook.

paper bag with flowers hanging on door

Small paper bags are an easy way for children to make May Day baskets. Photograph from Dukes and Duchesses.

tin can with flowers

An inexpensive way to create simple May Day baskets is with small tin cans. Holes are punched on the sides for the ribbon. Photograph from Chasing Fireflies.

berry basket filled with flowers

Little berry baskets make sweet May Day baskets. Photograph from A Pretty Cool Life.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Aaryne McEvoy
    Reply

    I love it and thank you for the reminder! My grandmother used to leave May Day baskets on our front doorstep, secretly, of course. She never fessed up when we asked her. Choosing May Day Queens were part of the celebration in her day and we have seen a photo of her as the May Queen when she was younger. We also made baskets as kids and our tradition, that I still prefer to carry on, is to use a milk carton that you cut down to a square “basket size”, wrap the outside with layers and ruffles of crepe paper in spring colors and then fill it with small treats. We place them on doorsteps instead of hanging from door knobs. I’d better get moving – it’s almost May – how did that happen??

    • Susan Wagner
      Reply

      What a sweet memory Aaryne! I hadn’t heard of the May Day Queen part of the celebration, but I love it! Please share a picture of your May Day milk-carton baskets when you make them. I’d love to see them!

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flowers in milk bottles in metal tray