By Mary Jo
A recent Wench blog by Christina had us describing our personal Easter customs and memories, which I much enjoyed, though I didn't have much to contribute. (I forgot to mention that we dye Easter eggs. And then devil and eat them. <G>)
But it got me to thinking about a little custom that I hadn't thought about in literally decades: my older sister and I making little paper cones, putting in a few flowers, generally daffodils since not much else was blooming then in Upstate New York, and taking them around to the neighbors. We lived on a rural road with not many houses within walking distance, but it was a pleasant little custom.
I remember one year when my sister had outgrown the custom so I went around on my own. There were a lot of Polish immigrants in our area of Western New York because there was plenty of good farm land. I didn't notice much difference in the kids at my school except that the Polish kids tended to be blonder. But many had Polish grandmothers at home.
On this particular year, I went to a small house on the corner of the state highway where we lived and a nearby dirt road. The little house had been a schoolhouse once, and my own father once was a student there. (When I think back, this is all pretty remarkable but at the time it was perfectly natural.)
At any rate, when I knocked on the door of the little old house, the only person home was a sweet little old Polish lady who didn't speak English, and she was so delighted by the flowers that she made me take a quarter. That didn't seem to be in the spirit of the occasion, but she wanted to give it to me and she seemed so pleased. (Besides, a quarter was big money to a kid my age in those days. <G>)
I hadn't thought of those little flower deliveries in a very long time, so I asked my older sister about it. She said we did it for May Day, not Easter and no, it wasn't something my mother had thought up.
So where did this custom come from? I asked my sister, who is very smart and has a PhD and everything and she told me to Google it. <G> So I googled May Baskets and found this interesting article on the NPR website as well as part of an entry on Wikipedia. It included a great picture of Eleanor Roosevelt accepting a May basket from two little girls, one confident, one nervous, and the basket enormous!
May baskets were once a much more widespread custom, and it still persists in some rural areas. Besides flowers, candy or small gifts might be included. Sometimes a basket could be a part of a courtship ritual: hang the basket on the front door, ring the bell, then hide and if the right person came out, found the basket, then came looking for the person who delivered it, romance was on!
This custom was part of a much larger celebration of May Day, which was sometimes considered the beginning of summer. After a long, cold winter, celebrating the coming of summer was natural, The holiday was generally celebrated with singing, dancing, and cake. What's not to like? <G>
Maypoles could be part of such celebrations. Once more harkening back to my childhood, some teacher at my school put up a Maypole in the middle of the school gym with many colored crepe paper ribbons falling from the top of the pole.
Each kid in my class was given a streamer and we were directed how to circle the pole ducking around each other in a complicated pattern (which we were VERY BAD AT) until the Maypole was covered with a cross hatched pattern of different colored crepe paper ribbons.
I don't recall any other details and this only happened the once. I suspect that the teacher who organized this was too exhausted to try it again. <G> The Maypole custom is much more deeply embedded in England.
Apparently these customs can be traced to 13th century Germany, and similar festivals go back to the Romans and celebrated Flora, the goddess of flowers. In Sweden, this celebration is for Midsummer's Day, June 24th. Perhaps because summer is slow to reach that far north?
If you're wondering about the disaster alert, "Mayday, mayday, mayday!", it has a totally different origin. It's an anglicized version of the French "m'aidez!", meaning "Help me!" The term was invented by a British air traffic controller in the early 1920s. He'd been asked to come up with a term that indicated distress and was very intelligible. I think he aced it. <G>
So May Day is coming! How would you like to celebrate it?
Mary Jo, thinking that cake is a good start. <G>