1st of May and Lily of the Valley

Why do we offer Lily of the Valley every year on the 1st of May in France? 



Explanations vary slightly, although all sources agree that on May 1st 1561, French King Charles IX, then aged 11, received a sprig of the flower from Knight Louis de Girard de Maisonforte, and that he liked it so much that he decided to offer one every year on this date to the Ladies of his court. Apparently, this is how it all started.

What varies is the reason why he received it. This website explains that the Knight gave it to him after returning from a trip to Italy, some other websites say that it was to celebrate the return of spring, some others that it was to bring him luck for the next year. 

You can also read on the Internet that the French tradition of offering Lily of the Valley dates back from the Middle Ages, and even from the Celtic and Roman times, which could explain the theory of the celebration of the return of spring.

After all, there must be a reason why the Knight offered the King a bunch of Lily of the Valley and not of any other flower. Lily of the Valley ("Muguet" in French, also called sometimes Lys des VallĂ©es), a plant originally from Japan, had been celebrated in France since the Middle Ages. So, according to me, it is very unlikely that the tradition of offering a bunch of this flower started abruptly on 1st May 1561.


Charles IX became King at the age of 10, after the death of his brother, but was coronated only in 1561. The date of the coronation also varies according to sources. Wikipedia in French mentions the 5th May 1561, Wikipedia in English the 15th May, and I have found other propositions too: in March 1561, in December 1561... Pick the one you prefer, however, being coronated in May, whatever the exact day, could explain the bunch of Lily of the Valley he received on the 1st to wish him good luck. This is only my "Detective Erica" suggestion...


This is Charles IX as an adolescent, soon after he became King of France.


If this is the right explanation, it did not bring him luck for very long though. Firstly, the Kingdom was, at the time, torn by religious wars between the Catholics and the Protestants (in fact, it was his mother, Catherine de Medicis, who was reigning, and she did so until Charles reached the age of 20). Secondly, the young king died of a chest infection at the age of 23, not long before his 24th birthday. 

No worries, though, I can assure you that Lily of the Valley bought on the 1st May does bring you luck, especially if there is 13 flowers on your sprig! 😉


Here is Charles IX as an adult.

Year after year, a bunch of Lily of the Valley was, from that moment on, offered to Ladies belonging to the aristocracy. At the end of the 19th century, this tradition spread to the rest of the population, and nowadays, everybody is allowed to install a stand in the streets of France to sell Lily of the Valley on the 1st of May, without having to pay tax on the income received. And when I say "everybody", I mean "everybody". I have sometimes seen school children sitting on their stools behind their table, trying to make a bit of pocket money.  The only rules are that you need to be 40 metres away minimum from the nearest florist (that might be closed on that day anyway, as it is a bank holiday, but never mind 😉), and that you do not mix Lily of the Valley with any other type of flower.


Some people like to get up very early on 1st of May to go and buy their bunch of Lily of the Valley. Many sellers are in the streets from as early as 7 am, selling at different prices. It is not always expensive on that particular day, but it is not particularly cheap either, so some people prefer to go to a forest on May 1st to pick their own Lily of the Valley. 

Nowadays, you can buy Lily of the Valley not only for your loved one, but also for your family and friends (who you also love, of course). It is a very nice and convivial tradition.



The mixture between this traditional bunch of flowers and the "FĂȘte du travail".

Political parties and trade unions also sell Lily of the Valley in the streets of France, especially the Communist Party, because the 1st of May is also in France, like in many other countries, the "celebration of work" day, called in French "la FĂȘte du travail". Ironically, nobody works in France on that day, except Lily of the Valley sellers of course...


The "May march"...

The "FĂȘte du Travail" is to celebrate workers rights. There are some traditional demonstrations and marches in the streets of France, in Paris and many other cities, sometimes with music or drums, and people selling food and drinks on the pavement near the demonstration. These demonstrations can sometimes take the form of protests. and in that case protesters carry signs or large banners exposing their claims.

You do not only have political parties and trade unions in the demonstrations. Anti-racist associations also join the march, as well as teachers and parents' associations, nurses... Recently, including this year, the "Yellow Vests" (les "Gilets Jaunes" in French) have also joined marches. 

"Tomorrow, the sky will be yellow" says the sign held by a Gilet Jaune protester in this article published for the 1st of May 2022 demonstrations.

If you are in Paris on May 1st, you can go to the "Place de la RĂ©publique" to observe the FĂȘte du Travail march. This is where demonstrations traditionally start. 


Originally, workers were wearing a red triangle during the march, which was later replaced by Eglantine, and then in 1907 it was finally replaced by Lily of the Valley. 

The circle is complete. 😊

(Source of the picture above)


As you know, perfumes and "eau de toilette" are very popular in France. Many of these perfumes contain Lily of the Valley. I will not make any publicity for a special brand, but if you are interested in knowing what perfumes (French or not) contain this very good smelling flower, please visit this fantastic encyclopedia of perfumes. Type "muguet" in the green box at the top left of the page, and you will be surprised! 




A bit of vocabulary and grammar.


Lily of the Valley : le muguet (masculine). 

You would not say "un muguet", although you can say "une rose" (you always buy several sprigs of Lily of the Valley, but you can buy only one rose).

You can say "du muguet". In this case, you will use "du" because you do not precise the quantity you will buy : "J'achĂšte du muguet" means "I buy some Lily of the Valley". 


A sprig : un/le brin (masculine)


First of May : le premier mai. The word "Mai" in itself is neither feminine nor masculine, but in this case you use "le" because it means "le premier jour de mai" (the first day of May", and jour is masculine. You could also say "Le mois de mai" (literally : the month of May), as "mois" is masculine.


A demonstration : une/la manifestation (feminine)


A march : une/la marche (feminine) or un/le défilé (masculine). Le défilé du 1er mai.


A protester : un manifestant (of course it can be feminine -une manifestante-, but we usually use this word with the plural : les manifestants)


A sign : une/la pancarte (feminine)


A claim : in this context you will translate it by : une/la revendication (feminine but we usually use it in the plural form : les revendications).


A political party : un/le parti politique (party is masculine in French)


A trade union : un/le syndicat (masculine)


A teacher : un professeur or un enseignant (both masculine)


Parents' associations : les associations de parents d'Ă©lĂšves (association is feminine, and as the word starts with a vowel, you can not say la association, you must say l'association)






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