Why The Tradition Of May Day Baskets Should Make A Comeback

Welcome May with some secret gift-giving.

Basket of Flowers Bing Delivered to the Door
Photo: Getty Images

The arrival of May brings the promise of warmer weather, longer days, and flowers galore. There are several traditions that have become synonymous with May Day, including festivals and maypoles twirled with brightly colored ribbons. There's another lesser-known May Day tradition that we think should definitely make a comeback, and that's May Day baskets.

A Friendly Tradition

May Day baskets can have many different appearances—they're baskets, bags, or boxes filled with flowers, toys, or treats that are left anonymously for friends and neighbors on the first day of May. What makes them special is the way they're given. Traditionally, May Day baskets are taken to the recipient's house and hung on the doorknob or left on the porch in secret, a sweet, unexpected way to brighten up a neighbor's May Day.

May Day Basket History

NPR took a look at the little-known holiday, and we have to admit, we sure are fans of the lovely tradition of hanging flower baskets. "The curious custom—still practiced in discrete pockets of the country—went something like this: As the month of April rolled to an end, people would begin gathering flowers and candies and other goodies to put in May baskets to hang on the doors of friends, neighbors, and loved ones on May 1," wrote the article's author Linton Weeks. Even more fascinating? "In some communities, hanging a May basket on someone's door was a chance to express romantic interest. If a basket-hanger was espied by the recipient, the recipient would give chase and try to steal a kiss from the basket-hanger."

May Day baskets have been around for centuries, and Louisa May Alcott describes the tradition in her novel Jack and Jill: "The job now in hand was May baskets, for it was the custom of the children to hang them on the doors of their friends the night before May-day; and the girls had agreed to supply baskets if the boys would hunt for flowers […]. Jill…amused herself with making a goodly store of pretty baskets of all shapes, sizes, and colors, quite confident they would be filled...".

May Day Basket Fillers

May Day baskets aren't just for children, though. A flower-filled May Day gift is the perfect way to brighten someone's day, and we're planning to gather flowers and give blooming baskets to friends and family all month long.

If you're inspired to make your own this year, you can keep it simple while still sending a clear message. Wrap a small bouquet of flowers from your garden. And you don't have to limit your basket to flowers. Add a picture, note, candy, or small trinkets your recipient would enjoy, like seeds for a gardener, herbs for a cook, or small tools for an artist.

Basket Ideas

There's no rule that says May Day baskets have to be woven baskets. Keep it simple and sweet by wrapping paper into a cone, trimming the excess if desired, and securing with tape. Add a ribbon handle to the top for hanging. Decorate with craft scraps. Or use pre-made paper snow cone cups, paper cups, or any basket or vessel you have around. Add twine, ribbon, or string for hanging if you wish. Recipients will be moved by the thought put into making their gift.

More Inspiration

For ideas to make your own special basket for someone, see some more photos of May Day baskets below for inspiration.

Have you ever taken part in the May Day basket tradition? Do you plan to try it out for future May Days?

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles