A spring tradition

The French tradition of giving Lily-of-the-Valley flowers on May Day was supposedly 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, a sprig of “Muguet” is offered to loved ones and friends on the 1st May, and in the week leading up to May Day you can buy bunches of these delicately fragrant spring flowers in florists, supermarkets and street markets, for just a euro or two, either as cut flowers or as plants in pots .

Of course the “Muguet” is closely related to May Day or Féte du Travail (Labour day) and is a public holiday where post offices, banks and most shops are closed.  It is a perfect time of the year for demonstrators to campaign for workers rights – always popular over here! Viva le Republique!  Truthfully though, the day is generally spent  enjoying a day off work, relaxing, perhaps lunching in a restaurant or enjoying a few drinks with friends in a café watching the world go by!

This morning I had a nice suprise when my young neighbour Laurent, knocked on the door.  He stood there beaming with un petit bouquet de muguet. It is such a charming custom and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the beginning of Spring!  Happily, the weather is improving again too.  The blue sky has returned, the sun is shining, the weather is warming up and everywhere is looking colourful particularly with the fields of  brilliant yellow oilseed rape adding enjoyment to the countryside.

“Joyeux Fete du Muguet”!