May Day celebrations can be traced as far back as the Festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, as well as to the Walpurgis Night celebrations in Germanic countries and to the Gaelic Festival of Beltano. In Europe, the first of May is a national holiday, their Labor Day. In France it is celebrated with the giving of lily-of-the-valley or muguet bouquets. This tradition goes back to the reign of King Charles IX who believed the flower was a token of good luck. The tradition has endured more than 400 years. A more detailed history of May Day can be read here.
In North America May Day is not much celebrated except perhaps in the making of darling May Baskets and in some places, dancing around a May pole. Traditionally, May Baskets have been created in paper cones filled with flowers then hung on a neighbor’s door with ribbon, anonymously, on the first day of May. The idea of the bouquets is to signal spring and brighten someone’s day with no reciprocity expected. It is a lovely concept and this year I decided to make some of these charming baskets and filled them with flowers from my garden albeit sans lily-of-the-valley, as it has been too cold and we have but pips poking their tips out of the earth.
A simple bouquet of Virginia bluebells and hellebores in a paper cone
Red bud branches in bloom with hellebores and purple foliage in a paper cone offer a cheerful welcome
A more masculine bouquet in a cone made of birch bark, filled with unfurling new ferns, hosta leaves, muscari blooms, a branch of fottergilla, some moss and delicate leucojum. This one is my favorite.
The paper cones were easy to make. I started with an 8 X 8 sheet of scrapbooking paper and rounded the corners on 2 sides. You can use larger sheets for larger cones.
Begin rolling the paper to form a cone from the rounded edge. Once your cone is formed, secure the edge with a piece of double sided tape. Trim the uneven edges at the top edge of your cone. For the birch bark cone, I soaked the bark for a few hours to make it more pliable and stapled the edges together. I concealed the staple by wrapping some ribbon around the cone.
Use a paper punch to make 2 holes on opposite sides. I did this with the bark cone also. From the inside, pass through about 2 inches of your ribbon and tie a double knot to secure it.
Find a small lightweight container to fit in your cone. I used an empty prescription bottle in one, a hotel toiletry-sized bottle in another and simply a wet paper towel in a piece of foil for the third as vases for the bouquets. Add a bit of water and insert your bouquet. I tied each bunch of flowers with twine to keep it secure beforehand.
Our neighborhood garden club sells these lovely May baskets as an annual fundraiser and they brighten the whole neighborhood as we all hang them from our street mailboxes.
Happy May Day!