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May Day Holiday in France; Fleamarkets and Lily of the Valley

an ironetone French antique plate with a rose and lily of the valley
Lily of the valley for sale in a Parisian florist on May 1st

May Day is Fête du Travail

May 1st is the Fête du Travail or Labour Day, a public holiday in France, it's one holiday of the year when employees are legally obliged to be given the day off (except some key workers; hospitals, police, transport).

Offices and many shops and restaurants close, even in Paris outside the main tourist areas.

Labour Day in France has been celebrated since the 100 year aniversary of the Revolution in 1889, but the holiday has only been finally and definitively enshrined in law since 1946.

May Day Fleamarkets

Brocantes, vide greniers and fleamarkets are a French tradition on public holidays, especially as the weather is warming up in May.

The choice ranges from large professional Brocantes, such as Chambord in the Loire Valley, a medium size fair but maybe one of the most picturesque in France. A great place to browse in a beautiful surroundings, but it can get very crowded and althought there are some beautiful French treasures, it is not a good hunting ground if you're looking for a bargain or to buy to re-sell, certinly not if you sell in France.

an ariel view of the chateau with the brocante on the lawns
The Grande Brocante de Chambord

Luckily, there are also many local vide greniers, where people sell their unwanted belongings in supermarket carparks and muddy fields and of course, there are fleamarkets on the streets of Paris. The best one I visited today was a mixture of professional and ameteur sellers just below Montrmartre, with views of the Sacre Coeur, the road lined with trees covered in spring blossom, a lovely morning.

A vide greniers or local fleamarket has a great atmosphere as the French people come together to buy and sell and enjoy the sociability of these events. Today the bars, cafés and restaurants were open all around the fleamarket.

May Day Fête du Muguet

There's a much older May 1st Tradition in France than that of Labour Day; giving family members and friends a small posy of lily of the valley. The posy is to "Porte Bonheur" as a lucky charm and to bring happiness. Cards depicting lily of the valley were often sent if you couldn't be together.

Old post card with lily of the Valley
Cards were traditionally sent to loved ones to wish them luck and happiness

Lily of the valley has been associated with spring and luck since Medieval times and there are of course many explainations of the history of this tradition in France.

The most popular is that Charles IX was given a sprig in May 1st 1560 while travelling through France, and then continued the tradition of giving ladies at court a sweet smelling posy on 1st May.

King Charles IX with lily of the valley
Portrait of Charles IX with added muguet! Credit Pintrest

From the Belle Epoque onwards, fashion houses, Couturiers, would give sprigs to their clients and it became a motif of Christian Dior.

A superstitious man, Dior used lily of the valley as a lucky charm. It featured in many of his designs and embroidery. He asked his florist to grow it all year round, so he always had a sprig in his office and often wore it in his buttonhole. Staff and valued clients were given it as gifts and he even used the fragrance in his perfumes, popularising lily of the valley in the second half of the 20th century.

Some traditions claim that a posy given to a lover must have three sprigs and at least thirteen of the delicate little white bells or 'clochettes' on each one to ensure eternal fidelity. Sometimes a rose is added to increase the romantic gesture.  Lily of the Valley has been long used as a wedding flower, with Grace Kelly and the Princess of Wales' bridal bouquets as famous examples.

May Day today in Paris

On May 1st it is legal to sell lily of the valley on the streets in France, usually street sales are not allowed without a licence.

Many enterprising people capitalise on this by heading out into the woods or their large gardens and picking little posies. Today I saw many sellers, including Assosciations for the local services, Protection Civile and the Pompiers (Firebrigade) selling to raise money for their welfare funds, they were doing a particularly good trade as people value their service.

The streets and parks were full of people out enjoying their day off.

Please note, of course lily of the valley is very poinsonous and must be brought into the home with caution if children and pets are present.

a posy of lilt of the valley infront of the Eiffel Tower Paris
Muguet in Paris, credit Wix

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