Those cool spring evenings and cooler nights are some of my fondest memories of growing up, especially on May Day eve. That was when we went to the woods and gathered buckets and tubs of wildflowers from the river bank, the shaded woodlands, and the swampy marshes along the winding dirt road.
2017 marked the 50th year of doing May Baskets, and that is when my sister decided it was time to let it go. I drove the 300 miles back home to help that year, and age told us it was time.
To think: it started because a 5th and 6th-grade teacher told her class about the European tradition of placing baskets of flowers on the doors of folks, ringing the doorbell, and running away to hide.
What I like about the European tradition is that this time, the children are the givers while the adults receive.
The focus is on others
This time, the children focus on somebody else instead of themselves. How cool is that?!
Nobody has to promise to be good or nice; the baskets are gifts of love from neighborhood children. Instead of kids hoarding for themselves, they are doing something for other folks and expecting nothing (imagine that!) in return.
One of the best things about giving is when you can give without the recipient finding out who gave. This concept is even applauded in the Bible, for Jesus said that when we are giving to those in need, our left hand ought to not know what the right hand is doing.
He was saying, “Nobody needs to know.”
That’s the fun part about giving – when nobody knows.
The fact that some people don’t even know who started our tradition is special.
That was our intent, that first year: no one would ever know.
We really tried to keep it a secret. We had every intention of giving and not having the recipients ever figure out who it was who gave. That evening, we planned (mere 5th and 6th graders!) that we would do this every year.
We never dreamed the tradition would continue all these years.
After dark, we left our baskets of flowers at the school we attended and rode away silently into the night. I don’t know why we thought no one would find out, because, in our close-knit community, someone was sure to figure it out. They did. They certainly did.
and nobody knows
Then it didn’t matter anymore. It was still fun to gather and deliver the baskets without the recipients finding out we were there. We succeeded in delivering hundreds of baskets over the years without our receivers knowing we had come. Barking farm dogs loved the stale cookies we fed them to keep them quiet while another sister ran to the house and stealthily placed a basket of flowers on the door handle.
Every year, on May Day, I remember those cool spring evenings and cooler nights when we delivered some fifty-plus baskets of wildflowers to relatives, neighbors, and friends. I remember going on walks down River Road to check the flowers a few weeks earlier, to see what was blooming and what we’d put into the baskets this year.
I remember the exhilaration of creeping alongside farmhouses and placing the baskets on the doorknobs. I remember the satisfaction of coming home at midnight, knowing that daybreak would bring smiles to relatives and friends as they opened their doors to welcome the morning sunshine and spring.
The spirit of May Day – and of giving
I’ve told this story so many times but I never forget, in the telling, the exhilaration of the fun and the satisfaction of blessing well-given.
That is the part that I love the best: giving just to give, and not expecting anything in return.
Giving unseen with no one being able to thank you because they really don’t know who to thank.
Giving anonymously so there is no need to feel beholden to the giver.
That is true giving.
I’ve had a few of those times when I’ve given to folks in need. There’s no sense of loyalty or expecting a payback. What fun it is to hear someone tell others about a gift they received and wonder who gave it – when you’re the one who gave.
There’s a story about the deacon’s wife who spent a year wondering who was bringing her pies – and never was able to figure it out. I love this story because the giver gave not only a pie but love and healing as well.
In our May Day tradition, we initially delivered flowers to our uncles and aunts and school teachers. Later, we expanded to the families in our church. Eventually, we were delivering flowers to nursing home residents and folks we hardly knew, up to 100 baskets one year.
Giving the gifts you have
Throughout the years, the givers have changed. Neighbor children accompanied us in our treks to the woods; later we obtained help from our youth group. Still today, there are folks who volunteer to help, and thankfully, the tradition continues.
We did this because it was challenging and fun. We did this because we saw the joy that was given when older folks, especially, experienced the joy of the woodlands. Once young and spry themselves, these same folks used to wander in the meadows and woods, enjoying nature and the beauty of creation. Now the beauty was brought to them.
You might not have wildflowers where you live, but you can still gather bouquets of thoughtfulness and kindness, and share it with those in your neighborhood.
In keeping with the May Day tradition, help your children discover the wonder, thrill, and beauty of giving to someone and expecting nothing in return.
Find within your heart what it means and how it feels to know that it is much more blessed to give than it is to receive.
When was the last time you did something for someone else as an act of kindness – knowing you will receive nothing in return, for the person to whom you have given doesn’t even know who to thank?
That, my friends, is the best way to give.
To learn more about this annual tradition, the teacher who first told the story, and my sisters, you can read here.