There are almost as many traditions to do with May Day as there are with Christmas, and whether you gather up the family weapons and march around the block or go out in the forest to gather flowers depends on how you view life.
Here are a variety of ways -- some more traditional than others -- to welcome that most merry of months.
* Invite three or four dour friends to don ill-fitting dark suits and stand with you on a reviewing stand while any weaponry you have been able to gather is marched by. Serve vodka.
* Dump the green cellophane grass and mashed remains of chocolate eggs out of your old Easter baskets and fill them with spring flowers. Deliver the baskets to people you especially like. This custom, once more widely spread, still survives in some areas of the country. If you haven't the baskets, flowers or friends to observe it yourself, drive over to Annapolis where, in the old part of town, the front doors are decorated with flower-filled baskets on May Day. If you do that (surely you have one friend to share May Day with), follow it up by ordering a dozen oysters on the half shell from the market in the center of the town square.
* Put up a May Pole, described by one 16th-century writer as "stinckyng idols" around which people "leape and daunce, as the heathens did." Who you will invite to share these revels depends on your temperament. If you are a serious soul, invite those who combine grace and sufficient concentration not to tangle the ribbons. If you would like the day to end in giggles, invite lead-footed buffoons. If a lewd Bacchanalia is what you want, ask anyone you please, but before you place them around the May Pole, lead them to:
The May Bowl. A bottle of Mosel wine with a handful of woodruff added, and occasionally, in the hands of the daring, brandy as well. One such adventuresome recipe -- Luchow's May Wine Bowl -- will tangle everyone's ribbons. Soak 1/2 cup of dried woodruff, tied up in cheesecloth, overnight in a mixture of 1/4 cup superfine sugar, 1/2 cup cognac, and 1/2 bottle of Mosel or Rhine wine. Next day, strain the wine-woodruff mixture into a punchbowl containing ice cubes and add 1 1/2 bottles more of the Mosel or Rhine wine, a bottle of champagne and 1/2 cup fresh strawberries.
* Picnic in the park. This is a tame version of what people used to do when they wandered into the wilderness to celebrate May Day. (And what they used to do is why Cromwell and his lot came down just as hard on May Day as they did on Christmas and why that 16th-century writer saw May Poles as one more bit of the devil's handiwork.) Since you will be picnicking in innocence (surely no one has ever been seduced by a peanut butter and jelly sandwich), find a spot thick with violets and dandelions and let everyone put their hands to making garlands. A head wreathed with a floral crown will contain only the purest thoughts.
* Make May first a day of firsts: first gin and tonic of the season, first day to go barefoot on the grass, first time to invite for dinner the people you've always meant to ask but were too shy or too busy or too sluggish to bother. First party you've ever given composed entirely of strawberries: strawberry daiquiries, strawberry-flavored vodka, strawberry mousse, strawberry tart, strawberry ice cream, whole strawberries to be dipped in any number of things they'd be good dipped in (a thick, sludgy chocolate sauce, creme anglaise, whipped cream, powdered sugar, brown sugar, champagne, or, and this sounds perfectly awful but isn't, freshly ground pepper.) Warn everyone to stock up on protein at lunch and check to make sure that strawberries don't make any of your guests break out in a rash.
* Make a match. April is iffy for romance; just as the courting couple warms up to each other, it snows. May is better. But since love is even more uncertain than weather, make an unlikely match. Instead of inviting people you think would take to each other, invite people you think would not and see if season can triumph over reason. If love takes hold, insist that the couple wait at least until June before tying the knot. May, while splendid for other things, is considered very unlucky for marriage.
* Derby Day is Saturday. Invite your gambling friends to a bet-placing brunch, then settle them down in front of the TV to watch the run for the roses. Mint juleps, of course, (writer James Cain insisted that the secret to getting the silver julep glasses to frost was lots of whiskey), which, in addition to being traditional, is a good opportunity to whack away at the mint before it creeps its way over the rest of the garden. And what else to follow but Kentucky fried chicken. After the mint juleps, no one will know.