When you're growing up, you tend to assume that everyone had the same customs as you. When I moved away from Des Moines and found kids just saying "trick or treat" on Halloween, not starting with a joke, I thought "what are these kids? Savages? You have to WORK before you get your candy, ya commies!" But alas, telling jokes while trick or treating was strictly a Des Moines thing (though I've also heard of it in isolated parts of Ohio since then).
Similarly unheard of anywhere else I've lived is the practice of giving May Baskets. In Des Moines, these would be baskets (more often cups, really) of jelly beans, popcorn, fun-sized candies, and other little sweets that we'd make and decorate. On May Day (May 1), we'd leave one on a friend's doorstep, ring the bell, and run like hell. If anyone CAUGHT you, they were allowed to hug you, kiss you, or punch you (opinions differed). I wouldn't know, since no one caught me. I was that good, yo.
While not strictly a Des Moines thing, it was certainly less popular elsewhere. A friend of mine moved to Omaha in second grade; I remember his mother being shocked when he only got two May baskets that year.
Though this seems to have been a bit more widespread than telling jokes on Halloween, it's certainly not a holiday custom that enjoys the popularity of, say, egg hunts. However, while it's not nearly as well documented as May Poles or choosing a May Queen (neither of which I ever experienced, personally), it may go back just as far as those ancient customs. This 1878 book refers to it as an old Saxon custom brought over from England to America long in the past (while noting that the practice was much less popular in 1878 than it had been in the past). Other sources indicate that they were originally called "May Buskets" or "May Bushes," and were bouqets of flowers left at the door of a girl you hoped would be the May Queen on the way to the May Pole dance.
May Day has traditionally been a fertility festival, though by the notoriously squeamish 19th century it was more often spoken of as a "spring festival"). The sexual symbolism of dancing around a giant pole is about as obvious as symbolism gets, but the connection of baskets to fertility may not be as readily apparent unless you think about a bit (poles, baskets...I can honestly say it never occurred to me until right now). But that doesn't mean that May Baskets necessarily symbolize anything sexual - as with many Halloween customs, the fact that the custom may be SIMILAR to ancient customs doesn't mean it's necessarily DESCENDED from them. (Rule #1: be wary of any historical account that says anything has ancient druidic origins. We know next to nothing about what sort of stuff the Druids actually believed and did. The Druid angle in contemporary paganism is sort of a re-imagining).
The custom in Des Moines in the 1980s differed a bit from the old customs I've read about. It seems that traditional may baskets are hung on doorknobs (ours were just left on the porch). And we seldom used actual "baskets;" ours were usually either plastic cups, styrofoam cups, or, if your mom was one of those "crafty" types, something to do with construction paper, pipe cleaners, and possibly cotton balls.
And, by the way - filling it with stale popcorn was not cool. I mean you, John's Mom. Popcorn is just filler. At least the old "orange in a Christmas stocking" filler is healthy and tasty.
But, by all accounts, it's faded in popularity over the decades, and by the 1980s Des Moines was one of a fairly small handful of hold-outs. I'm not at all sure it's still a custom there now, but I have been hearing from other people whose children still practice the custom.
So, let's see how far this goes, and how big it still is! Did you do May Day Baskets? Do people still do them in your town?