Tuesday, May 14, 2013

May Day: Adapting Customs to the Weather

Since early times, different cultures have celebrated May Day with bonfires, Maypoles, and gifts of flowers. In today’s world where we can flip a switch to brighten a room instantly or find fresh affordable fruits, vegetables, and blossoms any time of year at a local market, it’s hard to imagine why many past civilizations honored the 1st of May or similar dates.

In days before kerosene or electric lights, longer hours of daylight triggered communal rejoicing. Imagine month after month of more darkness than light in a small house where residents crowded around a nightly fire. Longer days alone were worth a party. When you added temperatures warm enough to trigger blooming trees and plants, there was ample reason to frolic and feast.

Most Kansans with a European background have ancestors who anticipated these annual revels in their original hamlets. Once families immigrated to the New World, they may have forgotten the reasons for the festivities, but they continued to follow old customs, which included delivering flower-filled May baskets and weaving ribbons around Maypoles.

As a descendant of several of those European cultures that celebrated springtime, I love making and delivering a few May Baskets to maintain old traditions and connect to my heritage. As kids, my brother and I constructed and distributed a goodly share of dandelion and lilac-filled paper cones throughout our neighborhoods. My own daughters will tell their children about sneaking up to hang a handmade container filled with tulips and irises on special friends’ doorknobs.

When May 1 arrived, I wondered how I’d manage successful deliveries as this supposed spring presented several challenges. It was cold. Make that really cold. The wind blew 40 or more miles per hour. It rained or pelted sleet balls during those frigid blasts. If there had been flowers to pick after recent snows and heavy freezes, it would have been a miserable day to collect them. 

Last year, my dilemma involved finding fresh lilacs because they’d been blooming for two weeks before May arrived. At least, I had them to pick even if they were bedraggled. This year, the problem was finding any of my favorite lavender sprays because the bushes were just leafing out. Even dandelions and chickweed were in short supply due the groundhog’s miscalculations.

Not one to let trivial details get in the way of success, I headed to the local hardware store’s garden department where I spotted envelopes brightly covered in pictures of giant zinnias, multi-colored wildflowers, and delicate cosmos. Then I stopped by the grocery store to pick up bite-size candies. Armed with grow-your-own-blooms and sweets to provide energy for gardening, my recipients could surely manage to plant their seeds and then wait patiently for the sweet-scented harvest.

My May baskets this year honored the spirit of the season, but the recipients will have to work to enjoy any posies. If this unpredictable weather continues, perhaps I’ll be sneaking into the gardens of those who received this year’s offerings to snip flowers from those zinnias, cosmos, and wildflowers for next years’ beneficiaries. Or . . . maybe I’ll skip baskets and flowers and decide inviting  friends over to roast a marshmallow to celebrate spring’s arrival is an easier and just as fitting tradition.

1 comment:

  1. I love your idea of putting flower seeds into the May baskets. What a great way to adapt to the weather and still keep the tradition alive. Thanks for the post!