Lily of the Valley – A French May Day Gesture of Good Luck:
The lady at our hotel reception gave me a sprig of lily-of-the-valley on May 1st. I thought it was a “peace offering” as they had very badly messed up our check-in the day before. But walking around Aix-en-Provence, I noticed florists and make-shift flower stands selling little arrangements of this flower. My only thought was that Mother’s Day was approaching.
Cultural and Historical Symbolisms
A quick bit of Googling and I learn that the lily-of-the-valley has numerous symbols and legends associated with it. It was the national flower of the then-Yugoslavia and it also became the national flower of Finland. In the language of flowers, this sweet, fragrant, bell-shaped flower signifies the return of happiness.
A Sign of Good Luck
I came across a timely article by Pierre from French moments which gives interesting historical background on France’s May 1st tradition.
In France, it seems that the tradition of offering a sprig of lily-of-the-valley as a sign of good luck dates back to May 1, 1561.
On that day, the King of France Charles IX and his mother Catherine de’ Medici visited the Drôme region. Knight Louis de Girard gave the Royals a sprig of lily-of-the-valley that he had picked in his garden.
In return, the young King decided to make it a symbol of spring and offered it to all the court ladies.
However, it was not until the 20th century that the lily-of-the-valley was associated with Labour Day. When May 1st became Labour Day (Fête du Travail) under the Vichy regime, the red rosehip, then a symbol of the Left party, was replaced by lily-of-the-valley.
May Day Tradition
At the beginning of the 20th century, it became custom on May 1st to give a bunch of lily-of-the-valley to relatives, friends or work colleagues. The flowers are a general token of appreciation between people.
May Day has always symbolized union protest marches and sometimes violence in Paris and other French cities. It’s pleasing to know that there is a nicer side to the May Day tradition. Now that I know the meaning of the lily-of-the-valley offering, I will thank the receptionist again for her nice May Day gesture.