May Day offers a delightful excuse for getting up a little spring festival for children and their friends, especially if there should be also a birthday to be celebrated; but alas! in our more than variable climate, it never does to make elaborate preparations for a purely out-of-door festivity.
The invitations to a May Day party should always be sent out at least a week beforehand, in order to give time for the little guests to devise suitable raiment for the occasion.
The small daughter of the house should certainly take the part of Village May Queen, in a white dress with a green ninon coat over it and a flower-decked wreath, especially if the party should chance to be held in honour of her birthday. The other children should come in the guise of peasants - lads and lassies - in nursery smocks and overalls of brown holland or green or blue linen, a costume which most children nowadays possess. The boys should wear slouch hats, and the girls wreaths or sunbonnets.
Jack in the Green is the proper complement to the May Queen, and there is seldom much difficulty in finding a small boy eager to play the part. He wears his ordinary clothes with a perfect bower of green enveloping him from neck to ankle.
The bower must be made on a foundation of light willow withes, bound to a small wooden hoop at the top, and a large one at the bottom, and decorated with leaves and light branches. A thick green wreath decorates the wearer's head.
If this is considered too elaborate or cumbersome, however, a leaf-green linen smock, worn with several green wreaths encircling it, will serve the purpose.
The children should arrive soon after eleven o'clock, a picnic lunch being provided to be spread in a sunny, flower-carpeted spot in a neighbouring wood.
A maypole with a bunch of presents at the top always proves amusing.
The maypole consists of a long stick - a boy scout's pole makes a suitable foundation if a longer one is not forthcoming - wound with green and yellow ribbons, one for each child present. If there are more than twenty children, a second pole must be provided. At the top of the pole, just beneath a huge ball of wild daffodils, comes a great bunch of presents, each one tied up in white tissue paper, and fastened by a wee green or yellow ribbon to the top of one of the ribbon strings. A fine cord is also passed through the narrow ribbon which ties up each present, and is fastened to the top of the pole by a tiny tack, which is concealed by the posy of flowers, to keep the parcels in a neat bunch until the moment for distributing them arrives.
If the day is fine, so that the children on arrival can assemble on the lawn - masquerading for the nonce under the title of "village green" - the present-bearing maypole is carried out in triumph by the host or hostess or other grown-up, who sits on a chair in the middle of the lawn, the pole held high in the air with the lower end resting on his or her knee, while the children collect round in a circle, each one taking hold of an end of ribbon.
Music will now be needed, to the sound of which the unwinding of the ribbons must be done. This can be suitably provided by any amateur violinist kind enough to enter into the general fun. Disguised as the village fiddler in smock frock and slouch hat, the performer now comes forward to pull his (or her) forelock before striking up a merry English air. "Come, Lassies and Lads" is especially appropriate.
The circle of children, which starts as a tightly packed ring closely surrounding the maypole, as the ribbons are unwound, spreads out on to the lawn as they dance gaily round and round, unwinding the ribbons until they are stretched out to form a gay circular ribbon canopy from the top of the pole to the wide-spreading ring of children.
A snip of the confining cord with a pair of scissors, accompanied by the word of command, "Kneel, holding your ribbons quite taut on the ground," and down slide the tantalising little packets - one along each ribbon - into the outstretched hands below.
The maypole is thus unwound and the little gifts distributed. These can be wee brooches in the form of an enamel flower for the girls, and small green penknives for the boys, which will be useful later in the afternoon for cutting flowers, etc.
Small rustic flower-baskets, each with a handle, and a good length of green wire - obtainable at six yards a penny - a re d i s t r i-buted now to each child, each basket containing a delicious little luncheon, enough for one - a hard-boiled egg and salt, a packet of ham-sandwiches, a good slice of cake, and a banana, apple, or orange, some chocolates, and a small bottle of lemonade - thus doing away with elaborate picnic preparations. And the whole party is then marched off to the nearest wood - still ablaze, early in May, with primroses, wood violets, cowslips, bluebells, and perhaps daffodils, as well as lovely mosses and delicious ivy and other greenery.
On arrival baskets are unpacked, and a merry picnic meal ensues. Then each child is directed to think out a scheme of decoration for his or her basket, which must now be filled with flowers, and decorated with the help of the wire, ivy, and moss on the spot.
The May Queen
Many simple competitions may be instituted, prizes, for example, being offered for the prettiest mixed bunch of flowers, for the biggest bunch, and for the most varied collection made during the course of the hour; this last competition is oftener more to the liking of the boys of the party than the basket-decorating one.
Sometimes the children are divided into couples, a boy and girl working together, and in this case a double prize must be awarded in each competition.
Tell the children before they start that they may send the flower's they pick to a children's hospital. Being warmhearted little beings, this will add still further to their pleasure, and they will delight in seeing that their flowers have good long stalks and are tied up into pretty bunches as they are picked, so that they travel well.
Provide several large dress-boxes in readiness at home, and collect a good bundle of moss beforehand, so that directly after tea all hands can be mustered to pack off the deliciously fragrant boxfuls of flowers to catch the evening post.
While the idea of a group of merry children arriving early in the morning in semi-fancy dress to dance round the maypole on the lawn before setting off for a picnic in the woods with competitions to follow, and winding up with a birthday tea indoors, is a delightful one, it could be modified, as the children might meet in ordinary clothes for a picnic lunch, with May Day competitions in the woods to follow.
If May Day should turn out wet the children, clad in rustic garb, might come at half-past three o'clock, and dance in the drawing-room to music played on the piano, and afterwards play appropriate games, such as "There We Go Gathering Nuts in May," until five o'clock, when a merry May Day tea would be provided.
The May Queen, with her flower-decked wreath and sceptre, should certainly sit at the head of the table to pour out tea, and if slippers were brought the party might wind up with an impromptu dance.
A little daughter of the spring