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May Day Traditions
When my siblings and I were growing up it was still a tradition to take flowers to neighbors on the first day of May, place the little bouquet at the door, knock and run away. We had great fun as we hid behind trees or bushes to watch the lady of the house open the door, look around, then see the flowers. With great surprise she picked up the flowers, smiled and went back inside. This was one of our May Day Traditions.
For our mother and grandmothers we would make little baskets out of pastel-colored paper to put our violets and pansies in. These little baskets adorned the supper table that evening. At our place at the table, each of us received a little flower on our plates. We knew the flowers would be there for us, yet we pretended delighted surprise as the boys tucked them into a buttonhole and us girls pinned them in our hair.
After supper, us kids cleared the table and washed dishes while Mom and Dad had their coffee. When we sat back down at the table in our places, there in front of Mom sat our May Day Flower Basket Cake. She had hidden it in the china cabinet in the dining room.
The cake looked like a basket filled with a bouquet of pansies. As Mom sliced and served the cake, each plate was passed down the table till all nine of us had one. Another tradition was to wait before we ate the cake, watching Dad with anticipation. Finally, he picked a pansy off his cake, popped it into his mouth and chewed it up. "Tastes like mint!" he said. The older boys copied Dad as the rest of us gently took the flowers off our cake.
The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian
times, with the festival of Flora, the Roman Goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane. A more secular version of May Day continues to be observed in Europe and America. In this form, May Day may be best known for its tradition of dancing the Maypole and crowning the Queen of the May.
To make a May Day Flower Basket Cake is easy and fun. Just make your favorite cake recipe and bake it in two round cake pans. When cool, slice the rounded top off one of the cakes to make a flat surface. Frost the top of this layer and place the other cake on top. Frost the entire cake with white frosting. Using a toothpick, draw rectangle shapes in the frosting around the sides of the cake, to make it look like a basket. Arrange pansies on top, using enough to make it look like a large bouquet. A handle can be made out of stiff construction paper and decorated with ribbon. Slide the two ends of the handle into opposite sides of the cake near the edges.
This basket cake can also be decorated to look like an Easter basket. Decorate top of cake with candies, a chocolate bunny, and marshmallow chicks.
Caution: If pansies are to be eaten, make sure they have been washed gently and no pesticides have been used on them. Do not eat pansies from a florist shop.
Goddess Flora, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1634
Content copyright © 2013 by Phyllis Doyle Burns. All rights reserved.
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