Wooden Basket Full Of Purple Lilac Flowers
(Image credit: AllNikArt)

May Day baskets -- baskets of flowers and treats given to friends or love interests -- represent an old tradition, dating back to pagan Europe. While the tradition of these friendly offerings has faded from common use, it isn’t forgotten. And, there may be a revival. To celebrate spring, consider bringing these back to your family or neighborhood. 

What is May Basket Day?

May Day is May first, and its original importance is the pagan festival of Beltane, a day to welcome back spring and new life. Most of the traditions of this holiday faded as Christianity rose, but some persisted: dancing around the Maypole and May Day baskets. 

In the U.S. sending treats and flowers for May Day was popular in the 1800s and well into the 1900s. There are variations on the traditions, but generally it involved making paper baskets, filling them with flowers and other treats, and hanging them on people’s doors. 

May Basket Day, as it was often known, could be an opportunity to send a message to someone you admire. Suitors would leave these baskets on their love interest’s door, knock and then run. If she could catch him, she would get a kiss. In other traditions the May basket was more innocent, just a simple message or greeting to a family member, a friend, or elderly neighbors. 

May Basket Day Flowers

The tradition of May baskets is a lovely one and worth reviving. It’s easy to assemble a paper cone and, while treats were often used in them, a posy of spring flowers is a perfect way to celebrate spring. 

Here are some flowers that are easy to find around May first that make a simple, pretty bouquet for May Day:

  • Lilacs
  • Forsythia
  • Apple blossoms
  • Violets
  • Peonies
  • Magnolia
  • Primrose
  • Bleeding heart
  • Honeysuckle

May Day baskets don’t have to be restricted to fresh or real flowers. Get crafty and make paper flowers. Include candies and homemade baked goods. Anything that you think your friend, family member, or neighbor may enjoy is appropriate in a May Day basket. Include a little note wishing a happy May Day, so the recipient understands the purpose.

Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.