May Day in France – Lily of the Valley, Romance and Workers Rights
The First of May is a Public Holiday in France, officially known as La Fête du Travail (National Labour Day) but also called La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day).
The Romance – Lily of the Valley on May Day
It is a tradition on this day to offer a sprig of lily-of-the-valley (“muguet” in French) to loved ones, and in the week leading up to May Day you can buy bunches of this fragrant spring flower in every florist and most supermarkets, either as cut flowers or as plants in pots.
Ever since its introduction from Japan to Europe in the Middle Ages, lily-of-the-valley had been regarded as a lucky charm by the Celtic folks.
The French tradition of giving lily-of-the-valley flowers on May Day is supposed to have begun on May 1st, 1561, when King Charles IX of France was presented with a bunch of lily-of-the-valley flowers as a token of luck and prosperity for the coming year. History does not record who it was that presented the king with this perfumed gift, but he took a shine to this idea and began the custom of presenting lily-of-the-valley flowers to the ladies of his court each year on May 1st.
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. Nowadays “muguet” flowers are also given as a general token of appreciation between close friends and family members.
Workers’ Rights – Labour Day in France
On 1 May 1886 at Chicago, the American Unions began a campaign for an 8-hour working day. A strike paralyzed the factories and there was rioting and violent demonstrations – 12 people including 5 policemen were killed in a bomb explosion on the 4th March and 5 anarchists were later sentenced to death.
In 1889, the 2nd International Socialists meeting in Paris chose 1 May as the day to commemorate and continue the fight for an 8-hour day, in memory of the Chicago events.
From 1890 the Socialist movement adopted a red triangle to symbolise their objective: 8 hours work, 8 hours sleep, 8 hours of leisure. This symbol was later replaced by the wild rose, then in 1907 by a sprig of muguet.
Under German occupation 1 May was made a Workers’ Holiday to rally the workers under the Vichy government, a holiday re-adopted after the Liberation. Ever since 1 May has been a paid holiday in France.
Practical Tips for May Day in France
May 1st is a public holiday in France – a day of paid leave for workers. Public offices, Post Offices and banks, plus most private shops and businesses, are closed.
Outside tourist areas, even restaurants, bars and cafés are frequently closed despite the fact that many people take a short break around this time. However, it is increasingly common for shops in large towns/cities, at transport interchanges and in some tourist areas to remain open.
Public transport service schedules vary in coverage – expect reduced services.
May Day parades and demonstrations may cause disruption to traffic in the centers of large cities, particularly Paris, so be prepared for delays and accept it as part of the way of life in France!
Short breaks in May:
For accommodation availability in May, check via our website Normandy Bed and Breakfast
Also in May – the Joan of Arc Festival at Rouen http://visitnormandy.wordpress.com/2009/03/30/jeanne-darc-joan-of-arc/