Jill Norwood is a neighbor of mine. Like most metro-Atlantans, she’s not from metro Atlanta. She is from a small farming community of about 1,200 people in Green, Iowa. Jill is every stereotype of corn-fed, midwestern good looks – tall, blond and gorgeous – and she is very proud of her Iowa roots. She has an adorable 6-year-old son named Adam, and she is raising him with the same values and traditions that shaped her family.
When Jill mentioned she and Adam celebrate May Day, I was intrigued. I grew up in New Jersey, in a neighborhood divided almost evenly between Irish/Italian Catholics and Jews. Our big holidays took up the latter half of the year, starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Christmas. By the time May 1st rolled around, we were holiday-ed out.
I joined Jill and Adam for their May Day preparations the night before the big day. I had done zero research on the holiday, mostly because I wanted to hear Adam’s explanation for the festivities. He’s quite precocious, and when asked said, “It’s a time to celebrate plants growing, flowers blooming, bees buzzing and butterflies fluttering.”
And he was spot on. A little perusal of the internet revealed May Day is a German tradition celebrating the end of a cold, hard winter and the start of spring. A re-birth of sorts. My food expectations involved all the usual spring flavors – lamb, asparagus, lemon curd… mmmmm…..
Turns out, I didn’t have to cook a thing. May Day is celebrated by making May baskets, filling them with treats, and delivering them to friends and neighbors. No prep work, no standing in the kitchen for hours, no clean up. Again, I was intrigued.
Jill and Adam had their May Day assembly line all set up when I arrived. Cellophane bags for baskets, special stickers to decorate them, and lots of candy. As Jill and Adam began their work, Jill told me about May Days when she was a girl. She and her classmates would make May baskets out of Dixie paper cups and pipe cleaners, fill them with candy, and leave them on the doorknobs of their friends. They would ring the doorbell, and then quickly run away, hoping to not get caught making the delivery. If the recipient caught you, you were supposed to kiss them. How sweet!
While Jill and Adam toiled away, I got to thinking that May Day is one of those holidays that flies under the radar. There are no days off from school, no huge marketing campaigns, no day-long meal preparations. I asked Jill why it was important to her, and she said simply, “I like tradition.” Isn’t that lovely?
Jill and Adam made their May Day deliveries the next day. I wasn’t able to join them, but they were kind enough to drop off a customized Norwood May Day basket at my home. Such an endearing custom. I was happy to be a part of it.