First of May Petticoat Day

Was this a strange New Jersey custom? Or an old-country custom that founds its way to the East Coast? When I was a kid in the 60’s (just before love peace and brown rice) there were several customs tied to May Day. The boys mostly, but also girls would shout “First of May, Petticoat Day” and flip up the edge of a girl’s uniform skirt to show her slip. Some years I would wear shorts under my uniform so that I didn’t have on a petticoat. (a doofus even then) Then there was crowning Mary (as in the Blessed Virgin Mary) Queen of the May. I imagine this came from some attempt to christianize a pagan ritual. I was always jealous of the girl that was chosen to crown Mary. She got to wear a pretty dress and a wreath of flowers. I was never chosen for such things, because I was not small and cute, but tall and awkward. The term my grandmother would use was ‘hoyden’ — not who you want traipsing down the aisle with wreaths and flowers

Second of May was Shoelace Day, you shouted that and grabbed someone’s shoelace to untie it. These days the little un’s all seem to have velcro. (Third of May, Velcro Day?

In honor of May, I have finished my first Christmas present. Socks in Kaffe Fasset sock yarn, color Fog. I love this yarn. The colors are beautiful and I wanted to keep going to see what the next stripe would be. I don’t worry about the stripes matching for each sock, as you can see. Whichever sister or niece is the lucky recipient won’t care either. I didn’t make socks last year except for my god daughter and there was much whining. One down, another 10 to go.



37 responses to “First of May Petticoat Day

  1. Christmas present?! We had May baskets on May 1st – if the giver of said basket was of the opposite gender, you were supposed to give chase and attempt to kiss the giver.

  2. Interesting story. And you’re smart in getting started on that rather large sock-giving list.

  3. It must be a NJ thing, because across the river in NYC we didn’t have anything as delightful. In fact, I don’t remember any May Day celebrations, though I do remember having to wear a slip. Do girls still wear them? Probably not. And you’re right, they all seem to have velcro now.

    Happy First of May, from one hoyden to another!

  4. Never heard of Petticoat Day. Now I have heard May referred to as other, not so nice things I shan’t repeat here, but no petticoats or showlaces in California.

    I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who’s started their Christmas knitting! I’ve got 2.75 down with another 10 to go. I think I might actually be disinherited if I ever decided not to gift socks at Christmas…

  5. We always did a May Day celebration – the whole pagan/phallic May Pole dancing, etc. This was in New Jersey, so perhaps it is a theme there – I haven’t run into it in the other 5 or so states I’ve lived in as a permanent resident since!

  6. The crown ceremony definitely comes from the old Maypole dance traditions, but I’ve never heard of the petticoat flipping thing. We used to make May baskets out of construction paper and leave them on people’s doorsteps and ring the bell and run.

  7. Haha, never heard of any of those traditions, thanks!
    And I’ve been eyeballing that particular colourway since it came out, but have managed to resist so far…don’t think it will last much longer though, they look great!

  8. Ok what is scary is that 3o years later I can still remember all the words to “oh Mary we crown thee with blossoms today….”
    That was the BEST tradition of Catholic school. Thanks for the memory.

  9. Good for you. I thought I was the only one who remembered this. I am from NJ and, at 78, thought the tradition might have vanished. I’m glad to see it lives on.

  10. My daughter, Eileen was quite tiny and was chosen for this honor. I saved the dress she wore and gave it to her many years later. I think it’s a lovely tradition.

  11. I grew up in NJ in the 1940’s and we did say 1st of May is petticoat day. And lifted skirts, some higher, some lower. I don’t remember if actual petticoats were all that common even then. And 2nd of May shoelace day is also vaguely familiar.

  12. Wow am I glad I googled. I now live in RI and no one here ever heard of petticoat day or shoelace day. I grew up in NJ and somehow think the days of May went on.

  13. I also remember petticoat day and shoelace day. I am also from New Jersey.

  14. Happy Petticoat Day! I have been wishing my friends Happy Petticoat Day, Happy Shoe Lace Day, every first and second of May for many years. I grew up in Essex County NJ and it’s fun to know others know about this.

    Happy Petticoat Day!

  15. Yup. Grew up in Jersey. I remember my mother warning us “First Day of May is Petticoat Day” in a sing-songy way.

  16. Hooray for NJ and this specialty all our own. When I moved away after college, people thought I had lost my mind when I brought up this wonderful old tradition from when girls actually wore dresses most all the time. Good memories!

  17. Way to go Nutley NJ! Petticoat Day and Shoelace Day. 81yo and still remembering.Beth W.

  18. I came here after a search for the expression, which my mum used to say on this day when I was little. It was a tradition in her school too, and she also grew up on the East Coast… of England! So it’s traveled far and wide, it seems.

  19. What was the rest of the song. There were 5 days as I remember it.

  20. OMG so funny! I was asking old friends if they remembered this & they said that we were silly and made it up. I live in Clifton, NJ and yes there was shoelace day on the 2nd, button day on the 3rd, zipper day on the 4th and the 5th…not sure! Anyone?

    • I grew up in Bloomfield! And I don’t know if you saw the comment from the man from England who said his mum used it.

      • I grew up in Bloomfield too. I do remember Petticoat Day at Berkeley School. Shoelace Day is vaguely familiar.
        I had a family member who worked at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie when it was all women. They had an elaborate May Poll celebration which I assume was on May 1st. I can remember old photos. Wonder if they discontinued it before men were enrolled?

      • I wonder..interesting. We made May Baskets some years, and at Sacred Heart there was a May crowning of the statue of Mary.

        It is fun to see all the comments on this topic.

    • There were 10 of them, one for each of the first 10 days of May, and my former neighbor knew them but I never wrote them down. Been trying to find them for years. Guess I never realized it was just a New Jersey thing! Does anyone remember them & can send them to me? Now that is beginning to sound familiar! Does anyone know the 5th?

      • I am trying to track them down. My dearest NJ friend didn’t remember it at all! She is checking with her sister.

        Sent from my iPad


  21. yes I did! I am obsessed with this!

  22. First of May is petticoat day; 2nd of May, shoelace day; 3rd of May; necktie day? (boys were to wear neckties); 4th of May, doorbell day? (rang doorbells and ran off; 5th of May??? Does any or this ring a bell?

  23. Pingback: Second of May, Shoelace Day. | Yarnerinas

  24. I have been looking for this for years! Yes, I am a Jersey girl. We had special names for every day in May–I don’t remember just how many. One day was kissing day. šŸ˜Ž
    I am from Bloomfield.

    • I am from Bloomfield also-class of 1959. This brings back happy memories. When we moved to the Midwest no one ever heard of the sayings–“first of May is petticoat day ” etc they instead were amazed that I had never heard of May baskets! Every May I think of petticoat day then shoelace day, necktie day, doorbell day , kissing day etc. didn’t realize. It was a Jersey thing!

  25. Also from Bloomfield, NJ and its was 1st of May, Petticoat Day in my Catholic grammar school every year, flipped woolen Stewart plaid skirts in the playground.

  26. There were 10 of them, one for each of the first 10 days of May, and my former neighbor knew them but I never wrote them down. Been trying to find them for years. Guess I never realized it was just a New Jersey thing! Does anyone remember them & can send them to me?

  27. As a kid in Norfolk England we would do the same but 2 of may was jamtoe Day we Jammed on kids toes

  28. Yes! Another Bloomfield girl who is happy to know other people remember this. No matter how many friends I ask, no one can name more that three – petticoat, necktie, shoelace!

  29. Hello again from an old Montclair, NJ boy who still remembers petticoat day. I always wondered about its origins, happy to learn eastern England did it too.

  30. Simon Harrowing

    For some reason I subscribed to replies to this. It’s amusing that every year at about this time there’s a little flurry of comments on this post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s