What Is May Day? Here's the History and How to Celebrate

The holiday marks the halfway point to summer.

Growing up, I always spent the first day of May making May Day baskets and dropping them off on neighbors' porches. My mom and I would fill small baskets with homemade cookies and bundles of flowers from our garden, then leave them as a sweet surprise for friends and neighbors. I always thought everyone celebrated May Day this way until I brought up May Day baskets with a friend who had no idea what I was talking about.

So if you're looking for a way to celebrate spring, consider adopting the sweet tradition this year. Whether you grew up making May Day baskets or you're new to the custom, it's an easy way to celebrate the start of a new season. Here's how to celebrate May Day.

Girls with ribbons around a May Day pole
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What Is May Day?

If you haven't heard of it before, May Day is celebrated on the first day of May (which—surprise—is why it's called May Day). There isn't a specific origin of the holiday, but rather several centuries-old springtime celebrations that have been condensed into one holiday over the years.

The first of these celebrations dates back to about 500 B.C. and comes from the ancient Roman celebration of Floralia, a festival that celebrated Flora, the goddess of flowers and fertility. Floralia was celebrated between late April and early May and typically lasted a whole week. It was a celebration of springtime and new life.

You may also have heard of Maypoles (they're more common in Europe than in the U.S.) which is another centuries-old tradition that influenced modern-day May Day. In medieval times, villagers would place bright, colorful streamers and ribbons on a tall pole; young girls would each grab the end of a streamer and do a dance around holding them.

When the pilgrims came to America, they traded the Maypole tradition for more simple baskets of flowers and treats, which is a tradition that's still frequently used today. Over time, all of these spring celebrations and customs have morphed into what we now recognize as May Day.

When Is May Day?

May Day is always celebrated on the first day of the month regardless of the day of the week, as this marks the halfway point between spring and summer. This year, May Day is Sunday, May 1, 2022.

flowers bouquet in berry baskets for may day
Brie Passano

How to Celebrate May Day This Year

One of the easiest ways to celebrate the day is to make a May Day basket (or a few!) and leave them for friends and neighbors to enjoy. As a kid, I would put together a basket of flowers and homemade cookies and sneak up to my grandparent's house, leave the basket on the porch, ring the doorbell ding-dong-ditch style and try to surprise them. (Spoiler alert: They always knew it was me.)

If you want to participate this year, we can show you how to make a pretty May Day basket (we also have free printables you can use to make May Day cards, too!). Once you've put your baskets together, leave them on your friends' and neighbors' doorsteps for a sweet socially-distanced spring surprise.

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