Oft when reminiscing about childhood and days gone by, my mind remembers simpler times. Maybe it’s because I was younger and unaware of life’s struggles. Or quite possibly, it is because news was less dominant in day to day life. Broadcast reports traveled at a distinctly slower pace, and the extent of coverage was much less.
Recently, however, as the month of May quickly slipped away, memories of May Baskets came to mind. Today, hanging May baskets is a tradition no longer recognized.
May baskets was a spring tradition most youths looked forward to each year. It was a fun and exciting time for boys and girls, and for many, a May basket was a subtle way to express interest, possibly a romantic interest in a classmate or neighborhood playmate. It was also a rite of spring.
Along with May baskets, there was the tradition of dancing around the Maypole. Another custom no longer recognized.
As a youngster, possibly seven or eight years old, I remember going to Mrs. Bohannon’s home in Ava to dance around the Maypole with other young children. It was a big deal. Revisiting those memories makes me smile –– it was a happy time.
As I recall, Mrs. B’s maypole was a large tree in the back yard, with long ribbons hanging down for everyone to grab hold of and wrap around the tree. Girls were dressed in frilly dresses with lace-edged white socks, and shiny patent leather shoes, either black or white. Young boys were dressed in button down plaid shirts, khakis, or ‘go to church’ slacks. Moms wore shirtwaist dresses, possibly with a modest strand of pearls with matching round bulbous earrings, and dressy flat shoes. Everyone dressed-up back then, as May baskets, birthday parties and community events were well regarded social gatherings –– they were fun.
May 1st was the special day set aside for ‘hanging’ May baskets. A special basket might contain flowers, candies, special treats or other goodies.
The custom was for a young lad or lass to ring the doorbell or knock, hang the basket on the door knob or place carefully at the doorway, wait for the recipient to appear, and then, run. The chase was on.
Part of the intrigue and fun, whether for a guy or gal, was to run after the basket-hanger, catch them, and steal a kiss.
In the late 1950s or early 60s, May baskets were crafted by hand. They were created with white round paper doilies stapled together, or perhaps, a simple piece of colored construction paper rolled into a cone shape and filled with candy. Both homemade options were deemed quite acceptable.
Hanging May baskets is an old tradition. History shows May Baskets were alive and well in New England during the 1880s. The custom continued to thrive throughout the years until the late 1960s when the tradition began to fade away. And now, unfortunately, it exists no more.
May basket days will always be special to me. The memories bring to mind the excitement of answering the door to find a young classmate or friend bravely waiting to leave a special basket at my door.
Poised to run.
The well-orchestrated act was perceived as an expression of friendship. Or perhaps an extension of a youthful romantic crush.
And, whether facilitated by a boy or girl, the act expressed an overt level of interest.
During third and fourth-grades, I remember chasing or being chased by fellow friends and classmates, including, Randy Reid, Larry Plaster, JoEtta Harnden, Beaver Sallee, Carolyn Spurlock, Steve Golding, and others. It was fun.
Most neighborhood kids participated in the custom, but to add to the May Day frenzy, my Mom would take me by car to visit other neighborhoods so I could drop May baskets to classmates and friends outside our immediate neighborhood.
These fond memories ignite feelings of childlike excitement, laughter, and fun-filled friendships –– it was a special time of innocence and unblemished delight.
Hanging May Day baskets and Maypole dancing are two traditions that no longer have a special place in today’s society, and that’s truly a shame.
Looking back to those days represents a time when life flowed easier. Our rural community was less cluttered, as residents relied on each other for fun –– local events were important and well-attended. Neighbors were well acquainted with everyone on the block, next door and down the street, and front porch conversations were frequent and lengthy. Only two local television stations could be “tuned in,” if your home had a real antenna (clothes hangers didn’t work well).
And, both channels offered wholesome entertainment and news coverage.
Computers, electronic gadgets, cell phones, up-to-the-minute news coverage and social media venues –– didn’t exist.
Simpler times, indeed.
Life is more sophisticated today and fast paced than it was back then, maybe too much so.