This Is Why May Day Is So Important to the French

Permettez-nous à vous expliquer. Translation: Let us explain.

lily of the valleyPhoto: KucherAV/Shutterstock

May Day (the first day of May) is as lighthearted as it is serious. For centuries, May 1 has been celebrated as the arrival of spring and as a day of merriment around the world. But since 1886, May Day has also come to be known as International Workers’ Day, which honours the rights of workers. It’s often a day when rallies and protests occur across the world, like these moments that changed women’s history forever. As it happens, France is a country that loves both flowers and protesting.

Storming the Palace of Versailles and bringing down the Bastille prison are two of the French public’s proudest moments in history. The common people taking power for themselves and ridding themselves of tyranny is what the French Revolution of 1789—and essentially the whole French spirit—was about. As The Local: France says, “Surely, there’s nothing more French than protests and demonstrations.” However, it is important to note that International Workers’ Day rose out of Chicago in the United States, when disgruntled workers came together in 1886 to rally for their rights. Three years later, France established International Workers’ Day, also called Labour Day; it became a paid day off in 1941.

But, May Day is also a day for the French to celebrate good luck with the gentle symbol of the lily of the valley flower. The Local: France recounts the story of how King Charles IX was given a muguet for good fortune on the day in 1561. He so loved the idea that he then started giving out the delicate lilies to the members of his court as good luck charms and, hence, La Fête du Muguet was born. Even today, the streets of France are flooded with flower vendors so that the tradition of giving lilies to family and friends can live on. Those looking to celebrate both versions of May Day should pick a sprig tied with a red ribbon, a modern interpretation of the earlier protestors’ symbol, a red triangle that represented the three parts to an ideal day: work, leisure, and sleep. You can celebrate the original spirit of the day by checking out these spectacular photos of the start of spring.

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