Pretty girls, baskets of flowers graced May Day

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

May Pole dances were traditional May 1 celebrations at
Tustin Grammar School. Two May Poles were set up here in 1916. 

When we were young, May Day, May 1, with its special rituals of the May Pole dance and hanging of the May baskets, was one of our favorite celebrations.

The prettiest and most graceful girls in school were chosen to twirl íround the May Pole, daintily flitting in and out among the broad, multicolored ribbons floating from its peak.

From the end of the 1800s or beginning of the 1900s, the May Pole dance continued for many years in the play yard at Tustin Grammar School. Mothers made sure that their daughters, if honored by being selected to participate in the ceremony, which the community often attended, had new, elaborately ruffled or embroidered white dresses for the event and wore their hair in elaborate braids topped by huge bows. Each girl wore a beauty-queen sash of spring flowers cascading over one shoulder.

The ritual of hanging May baskets at dusk capped the day. Adults as well as children joined in the fun of surreptitiously creeping up to a front door, slipping the handle of a festively decorated basket of flowers on the knob, ringing the bell and scurrying into the shadows to observe who answered the door. If it was the person for whom we had intended our token of affection, we hoped they would seek us out.

Since we had to leave baskets for all our friends and any especially nice adult, making the baskets, which always held homemade candy as well as a beautiful selection of flowers from our motherís garden, began some time before May Day.

First, we collected a number of paper-thin wooden berry baskets to transform with colorful pastel crepe paper and ribbons. Then we cut long strips of paper and ruffled them just so with our fingers to create scallops along both edges. Next, using copious amounts of white paste, we applied the strips to the basket, turning it into a confection of frothy ruffles. A short strip of ruffle or a generous piece of ribbon with rosettes at the ends, was secured across the top as a handle.

With our motherís help, we made our favorite candy, usually chocolate fudge oozing with walnuts. Cooked and beaten to a creamy consistency, the confection had to be cooled, wrapped in wax paper and arranged in the basket well in advance of adding the flowers.

Flowers were picked at the last minute and required a great deal of thought and several turns through the garden before we made our selections. The sweet little faces on the pansies were appealing, but the red rose buds smelled much sweeter and, of course, the wisteria clusters would spill gracefully over the sides of the basket. Eventually the dilemma was solved and the baskets were filled, often each with a different flower.

Admiring our handiwork was next. The entire family joined us in oohing and aahing over the baskets. Then it was time to deliver them, carrying one basket at a time into the dusk, hoping no one would bring us a basket while we were gone. Soft footsteps and muffled giggles sounded throughout the neighborhood as we traveled from house to house.

Too soon the evening was over until the next year.

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