It will soon be May 1st and Bank Holiday time in England. Here in France the day is also a holiday and celebrates not one but two fetes, Fete du Travail and Fete du Muguet. Both of them of equal importance to the French.
Lets take a look at the Fete du Travail - otherwise known as Labour Day. Labour Day is regarded as a public holiday here in France and everything closes (except for essential services) as everyone is legally entitled to this annual day off. This year May 1st will fall on a Tuesday and, as always, is designated as a day of action by the unions. You may, or may not, be aware of the French unions current disagreement with President Macron and the reforms surrounding employment and the economy he is trying to legalise. During April the unions started implementing a planned thirty-six days of strikes - to take place every Tuesday and Thursday over the next couple of months. So this year, fete du Travail will no doubt see a lot of protest action all over the country. Personally I shall be staying away from marches and protests and bunkering down at home and treating it as a normal working day - I might even get to finish the wip.
The May 1st holiday can actually be traced back to pagan rituals. For the Celtic people, this day marked the passing of the dark winter months to the return of the beautiful, sunny days of spring. On this day it has long been a French tradition to give those you love a little bouquet of Lily-of-the-Valley flowers - Muguets in French. Apparently on the 1st May 1561 a Muguet was given to King Charles IX of France as a lucky charm. He liked it so much he decided to offer them each year to the ladies of the court. Then around the 1900s men started to do the same to their wives and girlfriends. To give these flowers on 1st May means you are wishing happiness and good luck in celebration of the arrival of spring. I’ve heard too, that at one time during the 20th century, giving your loved one a single muguet or a rose on Mayday was observed more than Valentine’s Day in February.
There is a curious tradition attached to the selling of Muguets in France. I haven’t been aware of it so much since living up here but when we lived in the south of France every Mayday there would be lots of young people standing on street corners with baskets over-flowing with Muguets for sale. It’s the one day of the year that a flower selling license is not required. Although they are supposed to adhere to just two conditions: not to stand within 40m of a legitimate florist shop and the flowers are supposed to have been picked from a personal garden i.e. not purchased for re-sale. Not sure how strictly those conditions were enforced!
Happy Mayday Bank Holiday when it arrives.