MAY DAY IN FRANCE
La Fête du Travail & La Fête du Muguet combine on the same day!
May Day is such a surprise to uninitiated tourists visiting France when they discover that commerce seems to totally close down! At one stage it was impossible to find a restaurant open. Even now many close for the 1st of May.
The first day of May is a public holiday known as La Fête du Travail (National Labour Day) as well as La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day).
The fact that it is Labour Day is probably the reason for so many commercial closures. On 1 May 1889, a meeting of the international socialists in Paris chose the day as a public holiday to commemorate the struggles to establish an eight hour working day by the socialists in Chicago on May 1 1886.
Originally the French workers wore red triangles signifying eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep and eight hours of leisure time on 1 May. These triangles were replaced by the wearing of the Lily of the Valley.
May Day was not observed during World War II but it was reinstated in 1947 and on April 29 1948 the day was marked officially as La Fete du Travail.
Parades and demonstrations campaigning for workers rights by trade unions together with other organisations supporting human rights and other social issues traditionally take place on May Day.
A part of the May Day traditions in France is the giving of the Lily of the Valley to a loved one and the flowers are sold in florists and supermarkets in the week preceding May 1st.
On the day itself, Muguet des Bois vendors carrying baskets of the flower are to be found selling sprigs (brins) of Muguet at road sides and in other public places. The Lily of the Valley selling is often in aid of a charity.
These people and some organisations are allowed to sell the Lilies of the Valley on May 1 without having to pay tax or comply with regulations regarding retail sales. The sellers are not allowed to have their pitches by flower shops though.
The giving of the flower is supposed to date back May 1st, 1561, when King Charles IX of France was presented with Lily-of-the-Valley flowers as a good luck gesture for the coming year. From that day forward he gave gifts of Lily of the Valley sprigs to his lady courtiers.
In France it was traditional for country families to get up early and go into the forest to gather the flowers.
May Day marks the end of winter and actually celebrations date back to the Celtic festival of Beltane.
The Celtic festival Beltaine was celebrated principally in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man and similar celebrations took place in Wales, Brittany and Cornwall.
The Romans also held a May Day celebration when they annually honoured Flora the goddess of flowers and when festivities took place over a number of days.
Long ago May Day balls were held where parental interference was forbidden. The girls wore white and the boys had sprigs of the Lily Valley attached to their shirts.
The Muguet has other names such Our Lady's Tears as according to legend the tears shed by Mary at the cross turned into Lillies of the Valley. Another legend claims that the flower sprang from the blood of St George when he was fighting the dragon.
In actual fact the plant came from Japan and was introduced into Europe in the Middle Ages!