As a little girl, I lived in a village in central Maine. The month of May meant creating, decorating, and hanging May Baskets.
I don’t remember how old I was when I started, but I do recall an almost abrupt end when we moved away from the village into the country where the houses were farther apart, then later into the city where, I had also grown older and the customs were different. Some families celebrated hanging May Baskets only on May First, others every day throughout the whole month of May. Our family and our little village celebrated through the whole month of May.
In my childhood, both boys and girls took part in coloring, cutting, and learning how to weave strips of heavyweight paper to form small basket shapes. Some of the woven baskets were square, some rectangular. Sometimes we folded colorful crepe paper in origami fashion. We were then able to make scissor cuts in it, so when it was opened it formed a little hanging basket nest, where we placed a few goodies. Whether it was the woven basket or the crepe-paper style, we made handles that we glued on. We made three folds of the heavyweight paper, before cutting the right length to form the handles for the woven baskets. Because the crepe paper was so flexible, we could braid it for those handles. Waiting for that glue to dry was the hard part!
The “goodies” we put inside, cushioned with tissue paper, might be store-bought candy, homemade fudge, or some little trinket we were done playing with that we thought the recipient would find delight in having. Once the little May Basket was filled we’d try to sneak to the home of our unsuspecting friend, quietly hang the May Basket on the knob of their most used door, yell, “May Basket!” and run away, hiding from sight as fast as we could. Sometimes they could guess by our voices who had left the May Basket, sometimes by the contents.
When I was in my mid-sixties, a friend made and mailed a May Basket to me! Apparently I didn’t, but how I wish I had taken a picture of it. Some info she included about May Baskets I’d not previously realized, was that the hanging of them by children is an old New England tradition. The original idea was to announce “Spring and Good Cheer”. The information pointed out that May Baskets were given as an expression of love and friendship not only to children but also to loved ones, pointing out particularly “invalids and shut-ins.”
This morning as I wished my husband a happy first day of May, I thought about my childhood and the hanging of May Baskets. I asked, “Did you used to hang May Baskets?” He said he doesn’t remember. He grew up in the city and, as I stated earlier, I learned the customs there were different, so I suspect he didn’t even hang May Baskets.
For me, it is such a happy childhood memory. Like so many things, I can only wish such a memory for everyone, so if you want to try something new with your children, grandchildren, neighbor kids, or school kids, why not introduce them to a new variation of the old New England tradition of hanging May Baskets?
If you’re trying to think of a way to bring cheer to a shut-in, how about making your own May Basket and filling it with a goodie or two of your choosing? It doesn’t have to be candy; a little plant would bring spring cheer!
What a Merry Month of May you and your May Baskets can make it!
© Marilyn Sue (Libby) Moore 5-1-2011