May Day

Once in a while, I dig through my blog and retrieve a post.

I find it interesting because our blog posts represent the state of our personal lives and the position of the world at a specific period of time.

For May Day, I’m resuscitating a post that I wrote in 2010.

 

When I was a little girl growing up in France, May 1st was a special day. Sprigs of lily of the valley, muguet in French, were sold everywhere in the streets for a modest sum.
My mother didn’t buy any since our garden was filled with bunches of lily of the valley in the spring.

It is said that French King Charles IX received once, on the 1st of May, a sprig of lily of the valley as a lucky charm. This small gift started a tradition in the whole country of France.

Much later in the early 20th century, the flower became the symbol of la fête du travail, the equivalent of the American Labor Day.

Traditionally a sprig of muguet is also offered between lovers on that day. This is France after all.

In France, May 1st is a national holiday. Government offices, banks, schools, and many businesses are closed. In Paris and major cities some museums remain open as well as cafés and restaurants. However many will be closed.
On that day, thousands of people march through the streets of France, gathering unionized workers. The protests usually involve also activists working for an important timely social cause such as racism or immigration.

On May 1st, 2010, their number has decreased. The different unions disagree on so many issues that they chose to walk independently. The sans papiers or undocumented immigrants living in France were invited to join the demonstrations.
Today, all across Europe people marched as well. According to the French papers Le Monde and Libération, from Germany to Turkey, from Greece to Spain, the same angst for jobs and social justice was palpable. Greece and Russia exploded with violence while most demonstrations went peacefully in the rest of Europe.
Asia saw its share of incidents in Macao and Indonesia where police and protestors clashed against each other.
Here, in the US, people didn’t wait for May Day but instead picked April 29 to march on Wall Street reclaiming justice. The vast majority of Americans opposed the bail out of the banks and financial industry. Now that information about significant profits has been released, it is a wonder violence didn’t erupt also at home.
Today, like in Paris, protests in favor of immigration brought thousands in the streets of Los Angeles.
This morning, I read that two sprigs of lily of the valley were sold for as much as four Euros all over France. With unemployment skyrocketing, many French didn’t buy the symbolic flower of the Premier May.
Then, I thought, one thing is sure: my mother certainly hasn’t changed her habits. Today she must have picked sprigs from her garden and made a bouquet. She could have sold it for 100 Euros. Instead she did, I’m sure, what she has done every May 1st. She must have put a couple of sprigs in each room of the house.
After all, lily of the valley was first meant to be a good luck flower.

 

Do you remember of 2010?

 

As I was finishing this blog post, my husband arrived home with the mail.

“This one is for you,” he said, handing me an envelope.

Now, who does receive snail mail in 2014?

Even editors and agents prefer e-mails for submissions and rejections, too.

Inside the envelope was a pretty card with a Happy May Day message from a friend of mine. Each year, knowing that I used to celebrate in France, she makes sure to mention that day.

This year, she added something special.

 

photo-157

 

Flowers have always the last word.

 

Is May Day celebrated where you live?

 

P.S. By the way, Teagan, on her inimitable blog, wrote about May Day, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I love may! thread nothing like planting new flowers and seeing their beauty come to life, Thank you for the history too 🙂 I always enjoy knowing about happenings of the past, especially with the way they influence the present 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing about May Day! I like hearing about people gathering together to fight for social causes.

    • Me too, Jennifer, this is my favorite part of May Day. A special day to meet for important causes. I will have to check what they did in France this year, but so far it didn’t look as engaged in terms of social issues as it has been in the past. More about unemployment I think.

  3. What a delightful post Evelyne, fascinating to read how things were in 2010. Here we have a long weekend coming up, so May 5th will be a holiday as a belated ‘May Day’ which is associated not only with all things fertile and pagan (pretty girls with flowers in their hair dancing round the May Pole and all that) but also it has its roots in socialism, from our Labour Party and so would have been associated with trade unions and marches, much as in your France.
    I love the tradition of your mum putting Lilly of the Valley around your house in every room…
    Also, what a truly wonderful, caring and thoughtful friend you have there, one to treasure and keep, a prize and a beautiful flower indeed! I’m sending cyber flowers to you too Evelyne, from England to you today in California for this May Day, 2014 🙂

    • Thank you, Sherri. England has brought many customs to the US, but May is more about marching at graduation than on May Day. I like it though that each country does differently and enjoy what you have to say about the British combo (nature and trade unions). And yes, I was lucky to grow up with a dad who took care of a beautiful garden and a mom who enjoyed the flowers a lot.

  4. Hi Evelyne,
    Enjoyed reading your recycled post for May 1st. I have the luxury of spending my fête du travail off work and as usual the May Day demonstrations and union marches here in Luxembourg are being doused with rain. By the way, a pot containing two thin branches of lilies of the valley now goes for €5,99 in many places. Mine return in my garden each Spring and I certainly agree with you that flowers always have the last word.

  5. Wonderful have a beautiful May Day – love those flower seeds!

  6. I remember we were in Lyon on a May 1. Almost all shops and restaurants were closed. Even the buses weren’t running. We did spend a wonderful day walking from our hotel to the city centre as did most people. Now we make sure to not be in France on May 1 🙂

  7. We have some sunny skies and temps in the 60s coming up. Maybe we will start seeing more flowers and blossoms. I think you’re lucky to receive a real letter. Enjoy the flowers.

  8. Glad for you to see that the weather is warming up in New England. Here we are going through a mini heat wave. Already. So I will have to protect my baby flowers. Happy belated May Day to you.

  9. The post was well worth revisiting. Wishing you sunshine. 🙂

  10. That was very interesting!! Thank you Evelyne!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

  11. Thanks, Linda. May Day was really for me the lily of the valley that my mom put everywhere. It smelled so good!

  12. This was really interesting to read Evelyne, about both the political and the folk traditions. Sherri has already mentioned what we do in the UK, but as a witch, Beltane begins on May Eve, going into May Day and is considered the first day of summer (and opposite to Halloween, which ushers in the new year). Hawthorn is the flower that traditionally would be brought into the house – ‘bringing in the May’.

  13. What you wrote on your blog and here is interesting because I had no idea about this folk tradition and the Hawthorn flower bringing in the May.
    What all these different celebrations show, though, is that the First of May has marked people as being a special day.
    Thank you, Andrea.

  14. I happened to be in Paris for the last 1st of May. I live in Bordeaux, I do not come on often in Paris, but I was so surprised of people selling lily ! They were so many, they were everywere, even families just selling a part of their garden for the fun.
    Oh and yes, flowers do have always the last word !

  15. Thank you, Mary. I’m so glad that you spent one May 1 in Paris. I didn’t live there when I was a little girl and the lily was sold everywhere as well. Isn’t it the case in Bordeaux?

  16. Love it, I did an update on my May Day post this year too, the first time I wrote about it being on the receiving end of a wonderful tradition, now that I have lived here more than 8 years I’ve dug a little deeper into the tradition and laugh with my friends from the US who don’t commemorate Labour Day on May 1 even though so many other countries France included pay tribute to those who died in Chicago protesting to implement the 8 hour day. It reminds me that in New Zealand we always have a holiday on the Queen’s birthday (and its always a Monday) and I was shocked to discover it is a public holiday in England!

  17. Thank you, Claire, for stopping by and adding your own thoughts about May 1. I am always interested to read about the ways countries celebrate certain days. May 1 is one of the most interesting because it’s related to workers’ rights, which are not always respected and honored. Thank you again for your visit.

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