The first of May is a holiday in France, called La Fete du Travail (“Labor Day”) or La Fete du Muguet (“Lily of the Valley Day”). That means that today there will be demonstrations in support of laborers, and that people will give close friends and loved ones bouquets of lilies of the valley, as symbols of the advent of spring and tokens of good fortune. They also must be one of the all-time cutest flowers ever created, and they smell divine, too. I didn’t realize that people will be selling these little gems on every street corner today, so I ran over to my local “fleuriste” last night (as they were closing up) and bought bouquets for mlle Cordon-Bleu and my daughter.
You might be wondering, as I did, what these sweet flowers have to do with the rights of workers. Apparently, the answer is nothing.
Legend has it that on May 1 of 1561, King Charles IX was presented with lilies of the valley as a token of good luck and prosperity for the coming year. He liked the idea, and began presenting them to the ladies of his court on the first of May. I guess it went over well, because the Frenchies are still doing it today. But of course it went over well- who wouldn’t be delighted to be given such a sweet bouquet?
The Labor Day portion of the holiday actually originated in the United States. On May 1 , 1866 in Chicago, the American Unions began a campaign for the 8-hour work day. Sadly, the campaign culminated in several deaths following a bomb explosion. In 1889, the International Socialists in Paris chose May 1 to recognize the fight for the 8-hour work day, in commemoration of the tragic events in Chicago.
Here are some pictures of other “muguets” I saw in shops this week.
As our family name is spelled and pronounced exactly like the French month of “Mai”, I like to think that every day is Mai Day around here. Now if only people would bring me these little flowers in recognition of that, I would be so happy!