Purpose of hay on the floor?

As winter progresses, many homes in my area begin covering their stone tile floors with hay, particularly in corridors and especially on stairs. This hay or dried grass is either set aside in the autumn or made by cutting apart last year’s worn brooms. In the basement, about an inch of hay is laid. What is the purpose of this preparation, and how did it originate? Everyone disagrees as to why we do it.
Does anyone do this outside of Maine? When I lived in Detroit, I offered to help thresh the floors for winter and no one had even heard of it.

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