Lily of the Valley – May Day in France

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).

muguet or lily_of_the_valley
“Muguet” – Lily of the Valley in our Car Park

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.

Labour Day Poster
Labour Day Poster

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 https://visitnormandy.wordpress.com/2009/03/30/jeanne-darc-joan-of-arc/

7 thoughts on “Lily of the Valley – May Day in France

  1. Pingback: Veritas
  2. Thank you for this nice website, I’m living in Paris since long time, but I couldn’t find anythink likely on French website. This one is charming and really appropriated to the season and this cute and interesting event. Tomorrow Paris’s streets will be covered of people selling these delicate lillies of the valley.
    Best wishes also to you and other readers.

    Barbara May

  3. Your post in a laymyhat forum back in 2008 drew me to this blog and a very nice job you have made of it to!

    Good local and national information and great pictures.

  4. Pingback: May Day « The Paris Savannah Connection

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