Popcorn, pretzels, cheese puffs, suckers, hard candy, bubble gum, licorice … snacks and treats layered into disposable cups outfitted with a pipe cleaner handle and, possibly, some stickers or a ribbon on the outside creates a May basket. Simple and generous, this gift, delivered to the door of friends and neighbors, celebrates the arrival of Spring and rejuvenation. It is as much about the gesture as it is the contents.
My First May Basket
The first May Day basket I remember receiving was not a typical basket. This was not a cup or small container of treats. This particular “basket” was made from a shoe box and it was delivered for me by our sweet neighbor, Muriel. Muriel and her husband, Wilbur, lived on a farm just a quarter-mile from ours and they were the sweetest couple. Having lost their only daughter as a teenager, they loved seeing kids riding bikes past their home. They encouraged me to stop and pet their horses and watch their fancy chickens in the yard. Muriel had a heart full of kindness and took advantage of simple holidays like May Day to spoil us. The shoe box basket was decorated with crepe paper and filled with treats. I don’t really remember exactly how it looked or what the treats inside were but I do remember that it was big, made specifically for me, and it made me feel special.
My brothers remember one year when she gave them each a blue toy truck with treats filling the truck bed. This was no small toy either. It was at least a foot long. My mom recently found those trucks, had them cleaned and repaired and gave them back to my brothers, along with that memory.
May Baskets down memory lane
I called my mom today to ask her what she remembered about May Day. What started off as a discussion about candy and popcorn, soon evolved into story after story. She first reminded me how we would use whatever we had to create our “baskets”: shoe boxes, 2-quart milk boxes, any carton or container that could be cut down, decorated and filled. What I didn’t remember was that we would make baskets for entire families and that it wasn’t as much about one day as it was the whole month! You just never knew when friends and neighbors would make a delivery. It was always simple, never expensive and given in person.
Soon, Mom’s stories turned to those from her childhood. A neighbor who would add a big box of candy, an uncommon treat, to the top of her baskets. Mom laughed as she told me about the people who would try to deliver the basket without being seen. In particular, one man who would yell out after leaving the basket and go hide in a barrel while the kids tried to find him. He would throw his voice out of the barrel in different directions to confuse their search.
the tradition continues
Fast-forward to 1996. Marty and I bought our first home. Our boys were young (a 5-year-old and a 8-month-old). We could not have asked for a better neighborhood for them: lots of young kids, little traffic, kind people and a hearty love for even the smallest of holidays. We learned quickly that delivering May baskets was a sport. The old tradition of delivering a basket without being “caught” was alive and well in this community. The doorbell would ring … and often some loud knocking too … and everyone would run to the door or the nearest window to try and catch a glimpse of the giver. Whether or not you saw them or chased them or missed them completely, a cup of treats was your reward.
One of our neighbors, Lori, loved this tradition so much, she would make baskets for the kids long after her girls had transitioned to baby-sitting, rather than playing with, the younger kids. Lori started adding sidewalk chalk, bubbles and even kites to the baskets. She had more fun watching the kids run and play and would wave to everyone as they opened their doors to catch the door-ringers.
It never occurred to me until I wrote this down that Lori and Muriel would have been great friends.
more may basket ideas
There are two recipes that I would highly recommend for filling baskets:
These seasoned pretzels take the traditional popcorn and pretzel element of any May basket to the next level. You might as well include the recipe, because you will be asked for it every time! They are simple to make (no oven needed) and can be made ahead and frozen to maintain freshness and, therefore, are ready to grab whenever needed.
A small bag of these delicious pecans … or in the case of the picture above, almonds, will leave a big, happy impression. Imagine one of these on each place-setting at a May brunch or wedding shower!
The beauty of these recipes is that they can be made ahead and frozen.
When leaving May baskets, it is always a good idea to have the treats contained in some way. It is sad when a basket is ruined by a brief rain shower or a wandering pet; however, even then the spirit of the gift remains.
it’s time to meet the neighbors
We moved from that home to an acreage this past year and have only met a few of the many neighbors around us. I’m grateful my mom told me about giving May baskets all through the month because it is the perfect way to meet them!
Do you know your neighbors? Maybe a May basket is in order? A loaf of sweet bread or a bag of cookies would do the trick. If you don’t want to give food, consider a small bouquet of flowers or a garden plant.
Remember, keep it simple and fill it with kindness. Happy May Day, every day!