Apr 29, 2024 - History

May Day has faded from Utah's calendar — but it used to rock

Three women ride in a parade float in summer dresses in a 1925 photo.

The May Queen and her attendants at the University of Utah's May Day festival in 1925. Image via the Marriott Library

May Day arrives this week, with its odd mix of cheerful gift baskets and labor protests.

The big picture: Utah doesn't partake in either of those traditions with much enthusiasm. But it used to.

  • This is old news, our weekly parade back in time.

Erin, here! I've long been surprised by the absence of May Day festivities in Salt Lake — especially the spring celebrations with secret gifts of flowers and candy in homemade paper baskets.

  • It's faded from other places, too — though I grew up celebrating it in Iowa.

How it works: You fold a basket or weave one out of colorful paper strips, fill it with popcorn, candy and whatever weedy flowers are blooming — dandelions, clovers, violets, grape hyacinths — and leave it outside a friend's door.

  • Then you ding-dong-ditch and watch from a hiding place as they find their anonymous surprise.

Why it matters: It's astounding that Utah — Utah! — abandoned a holiday that involves sugar, crafting and pestering neighbors.

  • C'mon guys! You do Halloween so well.

Yes, but: It used to be a big thing. For over a century, newspapers around the state were filled with notices of children's parades, maypoles, festivals, school projects, beauty pageants, dances, parties and even a grand ball.

The intrigue: A 1970 article notes the holiday's "bad connotation" — presumably the demonstrations that have long made May Day a rally for labor and the political left in other countries.

  • Those were especially prominent in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The bottom line: Flowers and candy were no match for the Red Scare.

Previously in Old News


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