The Milkmaid's Life
Upon the first of May,
With Garlands fresh and gay
They nimbly their feet do ply,
In honour of Th' milking paile.
Paper Flower Garland
May 1 is May Day, the day celebrated by the ancient Celts and
Saxons as the first planting day. On May Day a queen of the May
was elected from the eligible young women of the village to rule
the crops until harvest. Our tradition of beauty pagents may
have evolved from this competition.
The Saxons began their May day celebrations on the eve of
May, April 30. It was an evening of games and feasting celebrating
the end of winter and the return of the sun and fertility of
the soil. Torch-bearing peasants and villagers would wind their
way up paths to the top of tall hills or mountain crags and
then ignite wooden wheels, representing the sun, which they
would roll down into the fields.
In the early morning on May 1, women would wash
their faces with the dew. They believed this would improve
their complexions and bring them eternal youthfulness.
The custom of "bringing in the May" meant to go
out in the field (or woods) early in the morning on May 1 and
return with baskets full of flowers. Sometimes these
flowers would be strung together in long chains. Another
custom was to tie just one single blossom to the end of a long
wand. Sometimes the flowers made a crown for the May
Up until the end of the 19th century, the "May Birchers" in
England would go from house to house on May Day Eve and decorate
the doors with boughs of trees or flowers to signify their
opinion of the person(s) inside that home. In some areas,
the plants were chosen because they rhymed with the word describing
the person, for example "Fair of Face was signified by
a pear bough on door, while someone considered glum would get
In the 19th century, the custom of hanging small baskets
filled with flowers became popular in the US. It is still
done in some communities today. Many towns have organization
that voluntarily place flower baskets in various public areas. In
other cases, the flower baskets are not real, but are made
of woven strips of colored paper decorated with lace-paper
doilies and ribbons. They are filled with flowers, candy
and sometimes a short poem with the name of the person for
whom they are intended. The custom is to hang the basket
on the person's front door, ring the bell and then dash away
before the door is opened. In Iowa, it is the custom
for children to leave May Baskets on the doors of those they
have crushes on because flowers symbolize love, fertility and
the arrival of spring.
Background photo from the Archives of the University of Missouri: Students at the University of Missouri perform the Weaver's Dance, May Day, 1910.
Writing Prompt: Write a poem about the flowers in May.
In 1909 the first May Carnival was held at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University) to help fund student organizations on campus. The festivities included May Pole dances, a parade and a carnival. Photo shot in the 1920s behind Morrill Hall. From OSU Archives.
Mora, Pat, and Elizabeth Sayles, The Rainbow Tulip, Puffin, 2003. (Grades PreK-3)
Despite her awareness that her Hispanic family is different from toher families in the neighborhood, Stella fits in well and enjoys school. When she goes to the May parade at school in a tulip costume of many colors, she worries she will look different from everyone else. However, her perfect execution of the Maypole dance, her teacher's approval, and, above all, her mother's quiet love contribute to a perfect day for Stella.
Silverman, Erica, and Marla Frazee, On the Morn of Mayfest, Simon and Schuster Children's, 1998. (Grades PreK-3)
This is the lass / with hair like a nest / who walked in her sleep / on the morn of Mayfest." So begins the cumulative rhyme that propels this picture book to its celebratory conclusion - a spontaneous Mayfest parade! Best read aloud.
Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom is a program of the Oklahoma
Cooperative Extension Service, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture,
Food and Forestry and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.