Every Sunday, this blog will explore France, based on our family's virtual explorations in 2011
In a few days time, on the 1st of May, the French will be enjoying a tradition I consider to be truly charming and would love to be a part of: a day off work and the celebration of springtime with the incredible aroma of muguets. They will be celebrating La Fête du Travail (Labour Day) and simultaneously La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day).
For a few days prior, the streets fill with vendors on nearly every corner selling lovely lilys of the valley, considered symbols of spring and a "bringer of happiness". Friends and family offer sprigs, bouquets and pots of the flowers to each other on May 1 as a token of appreciation and for good luck. In fact the more little white dainty flowers are on the sprig, the better the luck, with 13 flowers being the most auspicious.
The custom is believed to have begun on May 1, 1561, when King Charles IX of France was given a sprig for good luck. He was so charmed with the idea that he gave lily of the valley each year on the first of May to the ladies of the court.
|A vendor selling lily of the valley for La Fete du Muguet|
Photo Credit: Sarah MacKenzie (CC)
May 1st is also Labour Day in France, a paid national holiday in celebration of workers rights. Labourers marched on the 1st of May in the 1890s in order to push the mandate for eight hour work days. Originally, they wore a little red triangle in their buttonholes, three equal sides representing equal share of one's day to work, leisure and rest (8 hours each). The triangle was replaced by a wild rose, which became the symbol of the Left. During the years of the Vichy Government (1940-44), the wild rose was replaced with the lily of the valley, entrenching it as as symbol of the first of May.
By the way, 8 hour work days were ratified in 1919 and Labour Day was declared public holiday in France in 1947.
Wouldn't you just love a bouquet of lily of the valley? (And a day off work wouldn't hurt either!)
Title image credited to: Suzanne Bonnefond (CC - Adapted with overlay)