Traditions across Europe-an eTwinning project

“Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, TRADITION and myth frame our response.” (Arthur Schlesinger Jr.)

The first of May in France April 29, 2009

Filed under: 1 May,Old traditions — mariedebretagne2 @ 9:10 pm

brinsmuguet2 1st of May and its popular symbol : the lily of the valley

The lily of the valley is considered to be a lucky charm and people buy or collect it in their garden to bring people good luck.

It is said that when the world was created, this delicate flower decorated the door of Paradise and every time a good man or woman entered it, its tiny bells would tinkle. This nice flower was gifted to identify virtuous people.

For Celts , and we are Celtic people in Brittany, the Lily of the valley was a lucky charm too and still is !

At the end of the XIXth century ( 1889) the first of May was adopted in Paris as a day to celebrate workers and labour. In 1890, people demonstrating in the streets wore a red triangle in their buttonholes to symbolize their demands, that is the ideal division of a day in three periods of 8 hours : work, sleep and leisure.
This red triangle was replaced at first by wild roses and finally by the lily of the valley.


In 1900, the first day of May, famous fashion designers ( « couturiers ») offered their lady clients and employees ( « petites mains ») brigs of lily of the valley.

A song called « il est revenu le temps du muguet » was created for the first time in Paris in 1936 and is still very pouplar 73 years later…

Brigs of lily of the valley is completely associated with the 1st of May. No first of May is possible without that elegant, delicately perfumed flower.

Everybody can sell brigs of lily of the valley in the streets on that day and teenagers make a lot of pocket money then !

On that day too, at the Elysée Presidential Palace in Paris, lily of the valley producers offer the President floral compositions « Tradition oblige »

Marie-France and kids.


8 Responses to “The first of May in France”

  1. mariedebretagne2 Says:


    This post disappeared when we added the slide show with the drawings. Sorry about that! My mistake.
    All comments have disappeared at the same time. It is a pity!


  2. Gabriel Says:

    Thank you for this little place of scholarship: I did not know the biblical tradition of the lily of the valley.

    • Marie-France Says:

      Thanks for your comment. Going through the old French tradition of the first of may, I learned a lot myself.

  3. Gina Says:

    Don’t be sorry! I wasn’t disappointed for that, it was just for you, because this is a good post and not showing it was a pity!
    All the best!

    • Marie-France Says:

      Hi Gina,

      You were the one to warn me about the dissapeareance of this post. I didn’t realise it because I was focussed on my kids’slide show and I had promised it would be on the blog for the 1st of May.
      Thanks a lot.


  4. stbrendans Says:

    In Ireland we have a tradition on what we call May Eve. Traditionly farmers bless their stock and land. A lot of farmers still bless the stock today. Blessing the fields and stock is supposed to protect the animals and keep them safe. Farmers use the Easter water to bless everything. The first of May is called May Day in Ireland. May Day is not a bank holiday in Ireland but there is a bank holiday the next Monday. May is supposed to mark the begining of summer, but it’s raining today.
    Conor A
    6th class

    • Marie-France Says:

      Rural Britanny used to have blessings of horses in a specific church in the county of Finistère.That church was( still is) under the protection of a saint called Saint Herbot. The horses’ hair was displayed on the secondary altars throughout the year.
      The Easter water was also used to bless everything from homes to electrical transformers!! That went on up to the 1960’s.
      Very similar to Ireland, isn’t it? We are so close and most of our saints crossed the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean in the Vth century of our era to christianise the pagans we were in those days!

  5. minou Says:

    My favourite flower in the world… my first memory of the flower goes back to my childhood. my great aunt had them growing around her home… and their scent is unforgettable !! It is a nice French tradition for May Day.

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