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
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.