La Fête du Muguet
May Day is also known as the Fête du Muguet or the Fête du Travail (Labour Day).
It is a bank holiday, and most shops are closed. This year it falls on a Tuesday, which means many people will have taken a ‘pont’ on Monday to extend the weekend. Normally it’s a day for demonstrators to campaign for and celebrate workers’ rights. With the newly proposed labour laws, it remains to be seen if a rather more aggressive stance will be taken by the demonstrators this year.
May Day first became a public holiday in 1947, and it’s a day when people would take to the streets for peaceful demonstrations.
A much older tradition on May 1st, is the Fête du Muguet (lily-of-the-valley).
Traditionally, you would give a small bunch of lily-of-the-valley flowers to your loved ones. The flowers are a more general token of appreciation between close friends, family members and neighbours these days.
The custom began in 1560 when Louis Girard presented King Charles IX with a bunch of lily-of-the-valley flowers as a token of luck and prosperity for the coming year.
It is said that he took a shine to the idea and began the custom of presenting lily-of-the-valley flowers to the ladies of his court each year on the 1st May.
There was also an old European tradition of “Bals de Muguet” or lily-of-the-valley dances once a year, this was a rare occasion for young singles to meet without having to get parents’ permission. The girls would dress in white and the boys would wear a sprig of “Muguet” as a buttonhole. From around 1900, it became traditional in France for men to present a bouquet of lily-of-the-valley flowers to their sweethearts to express their love and affection.
If you’ve been invited to lunch somewhere, or you want to make a friend, neighbour or family member happy, give them a small bunch of lily of the valley flowers.
The other thing to bear in mind for May, is that it’s known as the month of bank holidays in France. There are no less than 4 of them, plus Whit Sunday and Mother’s day, so if you’re looking to get things done in May, you need to bear in mind that there are lots of days off, and you’ll need to shrug if your builder says "what can you do….? It’s May….”
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