A Brief (Slightly Biased) History
In medieval and modern Europe, May Day was a celebration of spring’s much-anticipated return. Celebrations included the gathering of wildflowers and green branches, the weaving of floral garlands, the crowing of a May king and queen, and the raising of the Maypole, around which people would dance in joy. Many superstitions surrounded these celebrations, as well: If you wash your face with dew on the morning of May 1st, your skin will be beautified—it’s worth a shot, right?
Unfortunately, as the Puritans of New England deemed the May Day festivities to be pagan and licentious, the holiday never became an important part of American culture. The Puritans’ dampening efforts were documented and explored by 19th-century writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, who depicts this conflict between freedom and structure, May Day versus Puritans, in his short story “The May-Pole of Merry Mount.” But as we know today, the Puritans were unable to completely squash America’s spring fever.
May Day in Modern America
May Day—the one day a year where ding-dong-ditching your neighbors is socially acceptable. As a child, May Day was always my favorite holiday (arguably still one of my favorite holidays). You drop a basket of goodies on your friend’s door and run like hell, because if they catch you, then they have to kiss you. I’ve never given much thought as to why you kiss when you get caught, but an NPR article researched the forgotten tradition of the May Day basket.
Apparently, the May Day basket is traditionally made of paper, and fitted with small presents—together with your respects, best wishes, love, basically all the good feels. And then you hang this little paper basket on the door, knock/ring, and run. It was seen as disgraceful “if a boy hangs a May basket on a girl’s door and the girl catches him.” The kissing tradition comes into play later, around the turn of the 19th century, when the May Day basket became a custom for “youthful fancy” to leave “baskets of spring flowers on the stoop appertaining to the home of the one adored.” What a sweet way to declare love?
I’ve never received a May Day basket from an admirer, but my childhood best friend and I exchanged hugs—though rarely, because she always, always bested me. To this day, I still don’t know where she ran after she rang our bell. She would call me, giggling, as I scoured the yard for her, but alas, I’ve never caught her. Growing up in Nebraska, only a handful of my other friends even knew what May Day was. Here in Minnesota, I was pleased to discover you dedicate an entire parade to its celebration—putting my sad little Solo cup filled with popcorn and Lindor truffles to shame.
For the past 41 years, Minnesotans have welcomed the prospect of spring with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre’s annual MayDay Parade and Festival. More than 50,000 people from all over fill Bloomington Avenue as participants and spectators. There are three parts to this May Day celebration: the parade, the Tree of Life Ceremony, and the festival. The parade will begin this Sunday, May 1st, at noon. The MayDay Festival, which takes place in Powderhorn Park, following the parade and featuring music, dancing, poetry, food, canoe rides, and much more! This year’s MayDay theme is “Radical Returnings, from the core of our hearts, we turn to each other.”
Step outside and celebrate May Day with more than just a makeshift basket; make it a real celebration. Warning: Parade attendance does not fulfill your responsibility to ding-dong-ditch your neighbor; it’s arguably May Day’s most important tradition, and I’d hate for your neighbors to miss out on the fun.
Read more Minnesota Monthly May Day posts:
- 42nd MayDay Parade, Ceremony, Festival and Workshop
- 5 Things to Do in May in Minnesota
- Minneapolis MayDay Parade & Festival