May day traditions and memories of a generous neighbour

The 1st May is a bank holiday in France, although this year will be different as we are all in confinement. It’s labour day or Fête du Travail and of all the bank holidays, this is the one that is most respected.

In our early years here, my husband would usually continue working on a bank holiday.  He was often not even aware it was a ‘Jour ferié’, and has had people come and tell him off for not respecting it … Since opening the garden centre though, most years he’s taken a stall at a local Floralie (Flower/plant fair), which are very popular here. 

May first is also ‘Fête du Muguet’ (Muguet is Lily of the Valley in English). This is a tradition where people give a small bunch of Lily of the valley to ladies, but can be anyone, as a symbol of good luck and friendship. The first time we came across this tradition was in our first year in France. Mr Delfour our very friendly neighbour gave me a bunch of Muguet with an explanation of the tradition. The tradition started back on 1st May 1561 when King Charles IX of France offered Muguet to all the ladies of his court. 

Mr Delfour’s Muguet (Lily of the Valley) growing in our garden

Mr Delfour used to grow a huge patch of Muguet in his garden. When we started a garden centre in 2009, he invited our children to go and help him pick them from his garden.  He then gave them all to the children to sell at the flower market for pocket money. There were hundreds of them and it took several hours to sort and wrap them. Selling Muguet on 1st may is the only time anyone can sell anything without a license. Usually you need to be a licensed business to sell anything at a market, but on labour day, selling Muguet is one exception as long as you are not selling them with 40m of a florist. 

A few years back Mr Delfour decided he didn’t want to grow Muguet any more and so he dug up his plants and kindly gave them to us.  There are now several patches growing in our front bed.  Sadly, he died last year in a tragic accident while cutting trees in his garden. It was a huge shock and a great loss to us all. We are very thankful for the many things growing in our garden he gave to us and are a reminder of his generosity.  We miss him a lot. I think this year I’ll take a walk up to the cemetery and place a bunch of Muguet on his grave as a small gesture of thanks to him for his friendship.

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