The inspiration for this post goes way back to my childhood. I remember sitting down at our kitchen table, armed with pint sized scissors and construction paper, cutting and rolling the coarse sheets into cones during the last couple days of April. My sister and I scoured the backyard for grape hyacinths sprouting wildly among the grass and snipped lilacs from the bushes along the back fence line. We would put all of the trimmings into our makeshift baskets and cross the front lawn to leave our little gifts on the handles of our neighbors’ front doors.
Some of you may recognize this tradition – it’s a part of May Day, the celebration of spring on May 1st. Rooted in old European tradition, May Day baskets are small baskets of flowers and/or sweets secretly hung on the door handles of unsuspecting recipients. Originally exchanged between sweethearts, the tradition morphed into an innocent gesture for people (usually children) to spread kindness and warm spring wishes to their friends and neighbors on the first day of May each year. The popularity of this tradition in the US has faded since the 1960s, but it is still celebrated in many parts of Europe today.
As one of the youngest families on our block, I remember how much joy these surprise gifts would bring to our older neighbors. Typically I’m not one to recall many details from my childhood (just ask my family – they will confirm that I don’t remember much about those early days,) but these moments stick out with surprising clarity. So despite feeling like my passion for flowers is a recent discovery, memories like this one reveal that my love for flowers and spreading joy has long been a part of my story.
And thankfully that memory helped motivate me to invest in May Day this year. I will admit that joy has been in short supply these past few weeks, and there are enough things on my plate that I could have easily let the opportunity to give slip by without a second thought. But I’ve learned that sometimes by giving joy to others, we find the joy that we’ve lost in our own lives. So on May 1st, I picked up an armful of flowers, dug my scrapbooking paper out of the bottom of my desk drawer, and began the search for joy through this nostalgic tradition of giving.
As I walked from house to house, trying to stealthily navigate the creaking wood steps to the front door like I did as a child, I felt bits of joy seep back in with every basket I left behind. I didn’t witnessed the moments when my neighbors discovered their flowers, but I hope that that gloomy, rainy day was brightened just a bit when they did.
One phrase that my sister always used to repeat was the Ian Maclaren quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I have often found that to be true, and it was a phrase that encouraged me as I made my way up and down the street. What a difference we could make if we cared for one another, served one another, and loved one another with this attitude. So as my joy came back ever so slightly, I have been reminded that this is one of many reasons why we should always be kind and giving – because both the giver and the receiver will be blessed, and the joy that often escapes us can be found again.