May Day, May Day! (It's a Holiday in Paris...)
Ok, Ok, for our post today, May Day is not a call for help... (side note, did you know that "May Day" as a distress call actually stems from the French language - m'aidez?) Feel free to share that interesting nibble bit at apéro and cocktail parties, P'Nichers!
In France, May Day, or Fête du Premier Mai / Fête du Muguet, is a National Holiday, corresponding to Labor Day. Let's take a P'Niche peek to learn more of this Lily of the Valley laden day...
It is quite interesting and worth noting that while a common token of good luck in France, the flower actually stems (get it?) from Japan, thriving in that Eurasian climate and spreading underground with ease.
Can you imagine thinking this lovely bloom a weed?!
You know who didn't view lily of the valley as a weed? Wait for it - oh the romance!
According to romantic legend, the first lily of the valley plant was in love with the songbird. And those feelings were reciprocated...
Each evening, the nightingale would arrive to "Lily's" garden to woo her with song.
To shy to reveal her true romantic feelings, Lily hid herself from her bird crooner.
After one too many nights of unrequited bird/flower love, "Nightingale" flew away to wallow in its own loneliness. Quel Bummer!
Like any good rom-com, we are now at the "will they / won't they" conundrum...
Alone in her garden, Lily waited in vain for Nightingale to come back to her and sing sweetly.
Lily's sadness at Nightingale's lack of return had her stop blooming. (I imagine there was a pint or two of ice cream involved as well, but who is P'Niche to alter medieval legend?!)
Eventually, Nightingale decided to give it one last try and returned to Lily in May. Lily's happiness "blossomed" - her flowers restored and birdsong echoed through the romantically enchanted garden.
Ok, time to hop into our pretend P'Niche Time Machine to head forward in time from charming legends to the court of King Charles IX...
In France, le muguet, or lily of the valley, has been considered a porte-bonheur, or good luck charm, since the days of the Celts during the Middle Ages. But why? So glad, you asked, P'Nicher!
As it turns out, King Charles IX of France was given a bouquet of the lovely blossom on May 01, 1561 as a token of good luck and prosperity for the coming year.
Charles was so touched by the gesture, he decided to offer a bouquet of the delicate looking yet strongly (almost jasmine like) scented blooms to his courtesans, ladies-in-waiting, and other female aristocrats of his royal court. We can imagine it was quite the honor to receive this token of esteem from the king! And he continued to do so annually each May 1st...
This romantic gesture lasted for centuries!
Well into the 20th century, men would offer their sweethearts lily of the valley bouquets, blossoms, post cards, etc. as a token of their devotion on the first day of May.
New mothers also benefitted from the May first tradition, as lily of the valley bouquets were offered to them as a good luck charm for the new baby.
Friends, too, began to send cards, post cards, and notes each to each other featuring the lily of the valley image (or even a fresh bloom/spring) to wish each other luck, love, and prosperity.
To this day, the French will gift each other a bloom or bouquet of lily of the valley as a gesture of good will.
Lily of the valley also stays true to its royal roots, as the bloom appeared in the wedding bouquets of: Princess Diana, Katherine the Princess of Wales, and Meghan the Duchess of Sussex, all.
(Oh, and each royal bouquet had a sprig of myrtle as well, all cut from the original bush, which provided blooms for Queen Victoria's 1858 lush wedding bouquet - "something old," indeed!)
Most recently, lily of the valley has been linked to Labor Day, La Fête du Travail, and thus, La Fête du Muguet, is a public holiday.
Following a strike in the United States, specifically Chicago, in Haymarket Square (May 1, 1886), the demands by the populous fighting for a fair eight hour workday were met. Supporters in the US wore a red triangle on their lapel - three equal sides - representing 8 hours work, 8 hours leisure, and 8 hours rest.
In France supporters of this idea wore a sprig of lily of the valley in solidarity. Think protest...but make it fashion!
To this day, most businesses in France are closed on May 01 to commemorate Labor Day.
You know who does remain open for business on Labor Day? Florists!
And not just any florist - anyone can get in on the game. All private citizens are able to sell lily of the valley each May 01, and they are are not subject to any of the restrictions, taxes, or penalties set upon most business owners.
That said, there are rules to Lily of the Valley Sales Club:
Blooms must be hand picked, not cultivated / bred
It must be sold rootless
Only lily of the valley can be sold in a bouquet or sprig - no adding any other flora /embellishments
Vendors are not permitted to set up tables, stalls, kiosks, etc. to sell their lily of the valley
Those wishing to sell their hand picked lily of the valley are not permitted to set up "shop" within 40 meters (that's 130 feet) of a properly licensed florist
Seems fair to P'Niche!
Economically, the lily of valley surge each May 1st is also a day of "good fortune."
Nearly 85% of France's lily of the Valley harvest comes from the Nantes region (followed closely by Bordeaux). Sourcing locally helps the French keep their country working and growing (pun intended).
Estimates declare that over 60 million brins du muguet, lily of the valley springs, are sold each year.
In terms of Euros, that equates to an annual economic contribution of nearly €25 million.
Good fortune, to be sure!
P'Niche PSA: Lily of the Valley should not be eaten (it is toxic if ingested) and should be kept away from your food, your babies, and fur babies, alike.
The more you know!
In Paris and looking to purchase a sprig? Wonderful! Some of P'Niche's (non-sponsored) fave florists are:
Lily of the Valley Florist
73, rue Blanche, 75009 Paris
Métro: Blanche (Line 2)
101, rue Monge, 75005
Métro: Censier-Daubenton (Line 7)
Les Fleurs de Marie-Antoinette
Pl. de la Madeleine, 75008
Métro: Concorde (Lines 1, 8, 12)
35, rue des Archives, 75004
Métro: Rambuteau (Line 11)
Lily of the Valley is just one of the many aspects of French history and symbolism we research and love to share, so we hope you will subscribe to join us back in the Parisian Niche. We have so many more goodies to share. What strikes your Parisian passion? Let us know in the comments below et à bientôt!