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Parents' Guide to May Baskets

Who doesn't love finding a little basket or bag of treats left by a friend or loved one on their doorstep?

And, what kid doesn't love the thrill of the ding-dong-ditch??


Well May first, we get to make it a reality, and here's how:


in background, pinkish flowers fill a brown wicker basket. in foreground, the words "parents guide to may baskets"


What are May Baskets?

May Baskets are little "baskets" (or buckets or paper cones..but more on that in a minute!) full of treats, delivered to loved ones and neighbors on May 1st. 

For more than a century, Midwest families have been celebrating the first day of May with May Baskets, bringing joy to givers and recipients alike. This old-fashioned spring celebration has its roots in European spring traditions, but has changed somewhat in modern times. The tradition of leaving flowers or treats on doorsteps was a favorite of many immigrants to the US in the late 19th century, and has been done in the Siouxland area specifically since at least the 1880s. I even found record of it in the 1880s in some old newspaper records from Nebraska, South Dakota, and Iowa while researching the roots of May Day for an article in the spring 2020 issue of Living Here Midwest magazine. 

Anyway, it's fun to think that this is a tradition that's been going on in Siouxland for more than a century, and one we can still enjoy today. So if you want to join in on the charming tradition this year and don't already have a tried-and-true basket recipe, here are some ideas you might enjoy:


The Basket

Your May Baskets can be in actual baskets if you want them to be...but they really don't have to be! 

a pink paper cup decorated with flower stickers and a pipe cleaner handle holds popcorn and candy and sits on a brick doorstop in front of a slightly peeling white wood door


One of the easiest and most classic Siouxland May Basket options is to add pipe cleaner or red licorice handles to paper cups. And even toddlers can decorate the cups with stickers and other fun decorations! These make great little treats and it doesn't take much to fill them. You can put them inside of a clear treat bag if it's a windy day and you're worried about spills. 

Another option is a decorative paper cone. To make one, roll up a piece of pretty paper and use glue or tape to keep it together. then, punch holes and add yarn or ribbon to make a handle to hang it up with!

Paper bags are another fun option that even very young kids can have a blast decorating, and they work really well when using individually wrapped treats inside (we'll get to fillers in a minute!) and don't spill easily on windy days.

You can also use an inexpensive bucket or flower pot, which is cute with edible treats but also adorable with plants! Feel free to get creative!


The Treats

Historically, May Baskets were originally filled with flowers, and that's still a fun way to go. Because not much is in bloom by May 1st in Siouxland, if you don't have any flowers to cut from your own yard yet, a fun option is to get some seedlings from a garden center like Menards, Bomgaars, Wilmes, Home Depot, or Lowe's and replant them into a cute little pot, bucket, or cup.

But the classic modern Sioux City May Basket is filled with popcorn and candies! I feel like this is especially perfect considering that we have our popcorn company--Jolly Time--and chocolate company--Palmer's--locally and both have delicious factory stores!

Another option is go with pre-packaged treats. I really recommend this if you don't know the people you're gifting very well (like your kids might have a friend from school whose parents you don't know well), or if you are intending to be truly sneaky, as people may be unlikely to eat loose treats if they aren't sure of its origins. Luckily there are still lots of options for this. You could do unpopped bags of Jolly Time microwave popcorn so they can make their own, or you can buy small bags of popcorn like Pirate's Booty brand, or even a box of Cracker Jacks!

For candy, it's easy to find individually wrapped varieties, whether its from Palmer's or another brand, so take your pick! You can also find individually wrapped cookies, although it's a bit trickier. Here in Sioux City, one great place to find them is at Sugar Shack! Their cookies can be bought individually wrapped on lollipop sticks. 

You can also get creative, and keep in mind who you are giving your May Baskets to, like I love the idea of putting little coffee pods into a May Basket for a mom friend, and using puffcorn and baby-safe crackers, for kids too little for popcorn!


The Delivery

The classic method of delivery is the ding-dong-ditch: you park around the corner if in a vehicle, approach sneakily, places the goods on the doorstep, and then run for cover.

Traditionally, if you are caught, you get kissed. So especially if you are gifting someone older, don't be surprised if they do attempt to chase you down and kiss you! This has never happened to me. But it's a thing, so I wanted to warn you! 

And yes, if your friends have security cameras, they are totally going to catch you. You can either just let whatever happens happen, or you can warn them ahead of time so they can let their kids be surprised at least. Either way, it's going to be fun!


Don't want to DIY?

If you don't want to DIY, don't despair. You can totally just buy something. Here are a few local options:

  • Gift Guide Studio is making and selling a variety of May Baskets, including a pack of 18 little cups and cones for just $20!
  • There are pre-made May baskets at the Palmer's Old Tyme Candy Shoppe ranging from small cups to big baskets fit for a group or someone really special. 
  • Area florists like Step in Thyme and Perry Way Bouquet of course have a variety of floral arrangements, but also some live potted plants, either of which would be really fun if going the floral route!

Whether you do paper cups or fancy baskets, popcorn or flowers, May Day is a sweet little tradition and I for one am glad to see it continue! Happy spring, Siouxland!

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