May Day Celebrations in France


Essential Reading

May Day Celebrations in France

One lovely sunny Spring day, I remember exploring the beautiful city of Angouleme for the first time. Strolling around the old town, there was a lady selling small, pretty, individual sprigs of Lily of the Valley or Muguet. This was one of my Grandma’s favourite flowers, so I bought them, thinking of her.

Only afterwards did I discover their significance. In France, the first of May is known as La Fête du Muguet in France – Lily of the Valley Day.

France’s Fete du Travail

May 1st is also known as La Fete du Travail (Labour Day) or simply, Le Premier Mai.

It is a bank holiday or jour férié in France for all workers and a significant day for political demonstrations, trade union action, and ‘manifestations’. It is one of the few days in France on which almost everything is closed – a real worker’s day off.

La Fête du Muguet in France

Lily of the Valley was deemed a good luck charm by the Celts and was originally linked to spring. It is a lovely, distinctive woodland plant with white bell-shaped flowers. Here in France, we give this flower as a symbol of friendship, love, and good fortune. I always give some to my special friends as a symbol of good luck for the year.

This practice is said to date back to the French King Charles IX. In 1561, the young King was given a bunch of Lily of the Valley on May 1st, and he liked the gesture so much that he began offering a sprig of Lily of the Valley to all the ladies in his court as a spring symbol on that date every year.

In 1919, May 1st was proclaimed a National Workers’ Day and became a Public Holiday following on from the demands made initially in America and then ratified in France for an official eight-hour working day.

Under the Vichy Regime in France, Lily of the Valley replaced the Red Rosehip as the Left Party political symbol, and so this flower has remained the symbol of May Day in France. During the war years, obviously, the notion of Labour Day was not so prominent, and it officially became known as La Fete du Travail in 1948. This day is known as Labor Day all over the world.

Personally, I will be buying my sweet little bunches of Muguet and giving them to my very special friends to show how much I appreciate them and that I wish them good luck throughout this year to come.

Local Life in France

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Carol, a teacher from Hurworth in Darlington, lives in Charente in South-West France, where she runs La Grue Gites with her family.

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