One of my favorite books when I was growing up was a story and picture book called A Time To Keep by Tasha Tudor. It was a detailed, month by month account of the celebrations that her family would have throughout the year. My favorite month was May, not only because that was when my birthday was, but also because she showed the children dancing around the May Pole and leaving small surprise bouquets on the doorsteps of their neighbors.
The idea of leaving small bundles of flowers as a surprise for friends and neighbors stuck with me, and I often felt unnecessarily sad as a child that this wasn’t a tradition that was celebrated anymore.
When I was 13, I was in a production of Ramona Quimby, Age 8 at a local theater. The first of May fell on a Saturday that year and we had both a matinee and evening performance that day. My parents were out of town, and the young woman who was staying with my sister and me told me that if I wanted, I could take the bus downtown to the theater by myself. I thought that was a fantastic idea and so that morning I got myself up and got myself ready to head to the theater. Before I left, I went out to the back yard with a scissor and a large brown paper shopping bag that had handles.
The house we lived in at that time had once been owned by a botanist. She had planted a variety of unusual trees, bushes and shrubs around the property. I always felt that the very best thing she had done was plant an entire row of lilac bushes along the back of the yard. Each bush produced a different color lilac and they were older than me by at least 30 years. I clipped off more than 30 sprays of flowers that morning without making even a dent in the appearance of the abundant blooms.
That day I got on the bus with a bag filled with fragrant flowers. I got to the theater a little early and went around putting sprigs of lilac at all the stations in all the dressing rooms. Most people were confused by the flowers, not certain as to why they were receving them, but I got a deep sense of satisfaction from sharing them and celebrating the first of May the way Tasha Tudor’s characters did.
I love that book too! And I love May Day. One year I had all my kindergarteners bring in flowers and we made paper cones with handles and took them around and hung them on the doors of every classroom in the school, knocking and then running away, just like in the pictures. That was one of my favorite teaching experiences, which I had forgotten unitl your post. Thanks, and keep the little festivals alive!
Before I started school, my mom and I would make May Baskets and deliver them to friends and family in the Portland area. I vividly remember us taking one to my dad’s office, where we hung it on the door of his office, and hid until he discovered it. I think his colleagues thought we were a little crazy… but it was a lot of fun!
On May Day you will find Morris Dancers on Belmont plateau at sunrise, dancing up the sun. You will find a silly version of the maypole dance at Bryn Mawr’s May Day, where the seniors get flowers from underclassmen at dawn and everyone eats strawberries and cream for breakfast, and the Morris Dancers perform there too. Swarthmore College used to perform a lovely maypole dance for parents’ weekend, but it was a challenging dance and I’m not sure anyone remembers how it goes these days.