Today is both Labour Day and Lily of the Valley Day here in France and a paid holiday for all workers which in effect means everything is closed and most folk are making a long weekend of it.
Labour Day came about from the efforts of supporters of the French Socialist movement at the beginning of the 20th century who were calling for reasonable working hours. Initially supporters of the movement wore a red ribbon triangle in their buttonholes to represent their call for 8hours work, 8hours leisure and 8hours sleep. Over the years, this symbol changed to a sprig of eglantine roses and then to lilies of the valley in 1907.
Lily of the Valley day has an earlier history when a tradition of giving lily of the valley sprigs was started by King Charlie IX of France who, having been presented with a bunch of these fragrant flowers, (said to signify luck and prosperity) took up the habit and presented bunches to all the court ladies on 1 May every year. Since when, it has become a custom to present one’s sweetheart and other loved ones with a bunch.
To add to the romance of the day in some parts of France a Bal de Muguet (lily of the valley ball) was held where, shock horror, young singletons could meet together without first obtaining their parents permission. The girls dressed all in white and the guys sported a lily of the valley buttonhole.
So the fête de travail and the fête de muguet merged.
Today in the village I spied some of the older residents carrying sprigs of the flower to their neighbours. Apparently, providing the flowers come from a private garden or are picked from the wild, it is possible to sell them on the street, without filling in the usual 10 page permission document and without paying any tax on sales. If only I’d known that sooner. I have a garden full of them that I could have flogged off.
I leave you with a piccy of a poster created by L’Assiette de Beurre (a sort of French version of “Private Eye” but older) to mark Labour Day. It was produced in 1907 but you can quite clearly see that work and romance are merging even though the ladies appear to have forgotten the old adage “cast nary a clout, ’til May is out”.
Happy Labour Day or for the Romantics, happy Lily of the Valley day.