May 03, 2023

My mom has been living in a care facility over the last year and I decided I would bring her a little basket of flowers to recognize the first day of May.  This is a tradition mom instilled in our family when we were children.  The idea was to make a small basket out of construction paper and then collect wildflowers to put in the basket.  We had a lilac bush in our yard, and I recall lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) played a prominent role in the presentation.  If the tulips (Tulipa spp.) or daffodils (Narcissus spp.) were still up, one of these would also make their way into the basket.  Once the two or three baskets were made, we would take the baskets (with construction paper handles) and put them on the doorknobs of several elderly women in the neighborhood.  The baskets were unidentified, and we would ring the doorbell and then run away before the women answered the door.  The May baskets were meant to be a nice way of saying they were remembered and that we were thinking of them. 

When I looked online, I found May Baskets are used to mark the turning of the chilly and rainy months of spring into the warmer months of summer.  The tradition dates to Germany during the 12th and 13th centuries.  Some records even place it as far back as the revelry around Flora, the goddess of flowers in ancient Rome.  The popularity of giving the baskets grew during the 19th and 20th centuries.  The baskets are often homemade and contain a few treats or flowers which are (sneakily) hung on the front door handle.  For a time, it was common for boys to leave a May basket on the door of the girl they were smitten with, and then run away.  If the recipient opened the door to see her admirer running away, she could chase him down and give him a kiss.  The site suggested if someone tried this tradition today they would be caught on the ring doorbell and would likely be charged with trespassing.        

While I had good intentions of delivering a May basket to mom, things were hectic, and I did not get the basket made or the flowers collected.  I figured mom was not expecting the basket, so it would not be missed.  I was surprised when I showed up at mom’s apartment and found a May basket had already been delivered.  Apparently, the staff had gotten together the day before and made small cone-shaped baskets (complete with handles), filled them with flowers, and put them on the door handle or ledge next to the door for every resident.  I heard many of the younger aides had never heard of this tradition and the older workers (my age) had passed the tradition along.  Perhaps the giving of May baskets to recognize the older members of our neighborhoods will survive.

Thoughts:  While the hanging of May baskets may not be among your family traditions, they did help form my early years.  Family traditions are more than just habits; they are ideas and practices that create your family culture.  These traditions shape our individual identities and keep us connected with our families.  The same is true for societies traditions.  Traditions are the fabric that form the backbone of our lives and cultures.  These traditions not only need to be respected, but also understood.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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