I take delight in finding so many customs I grew up with in my Sicilian Catholic-German Lutheran family are, in fact, pagan.
From a young age, I remember an Italian aunt always celebrated May 1 with May wine – white wine that’s been infused with sweet woodruff. I have since learned that the concoction has German roots. Like the May pole covered with flowers and ribbons, so the wine with fresh herbs honors youth, spring and fertility.
You can make some by adding five sprigs of sweet woodruff – look for the herb plants at your local nursery – to half a bottle of a crisp Riesling and putting it in the refrigerator for eight to ten hours. Strain before drinking.
In Brownie Girl Scouts, we made May baskets. I think we decorated paper cups, added a handle and filled them with wildflowers. I continued the tradition, with my mother encouraging me each year. Most of the time, the baskets were a simple construction paper cones with two holes punched to allow for a handle of ribbon or yarn. I would collect up whatever flowers I could find – violets, bluets, dandelions, creeping phlox, grape hyacinths – to fill them. Then, I would hang the baskets on neighbors’ doors, ring the bell and run before they saw me.
Part of the fun was to remain undetected while also trying to catch a glimpse of their reaction when they found the flowers. Without realizing it at the time, it was also nice to be a child and have something to give adults.
I came to find out that these baskets were also a Beltane tradition – perhaps one of the few G-rated ones. I still carry on the tradition, typically by filing odd jars or other containers with wild or purchased flowers and leaving them outside my neighbors’ doors or on the desks of co-workers.
And merry meet again.