Le Muguet – Becoming French

Au mois de mai, fais ce qu’il te plait.

In the month of May do what your heart fancies.

 Provencal proverb

So today I feel like sharing a little bit of French culture with you, the 1st of May is a public holiday in France for the Fête du Travail and the day you will find people offering Le Muguet (Lily of the Valley) to their friends, neighbours and acquaintances, a tradition that began during the Renaissance in 1561, when Charles IX offered them to his subjects as a symbol of porte-bonheur or good luck.

Now associated with the Fête du Travail on 1 May, anyone can sell the flower on the street without requiring a licence or permission. Today I walked into the centre-ville and came across many people who are spending their day, sharing the magic of Le Muguet with the public.

The first year I came to live in France, I learned of the tradition when my next door neighbour knocked on the door and presented me with this delightful flower, explaining its significance.

Six months into adapting to this life, language and culture, it was a welcome gesture and reminded me how important it is to reach out to others, even if they appear to be coping, we can all do with a little ‘porte-bonheur’ from time to time.

And in the spirit of acknowledgement and small celebrations, congratulations to Juliet Greenwood whose book Eden’s Garden’ has been named ‘Welsh Book of the Month’ for May 2012, a sprig of ‘Lily of the Valley’ for you Juliet. To celebrate she is giving away a free signed copy of her book, click here to enter.

Finally, with Spring emanating everywhere, I thought I’d share my recent discovery and purchase of a book of 12 stamps (un carnet de timbres), with its theme ‘the language of flowers’, I hope you can guess the English equivalent:

Le Langage des fleurs

Pensée / Affection

Coquelicot / Joie

Arum / Ardeur

Muguet / Bonheur

Tulipe / Amour

Violette / Modestie

Iris / Tendresse

Œillet / Fidélité

Rose / Passion

Pivione / Générosité

Marguerite / Attirance

Dahlia / Admiration

Bonne fête à tous!

46 thoughts on “Le Muguet – Becoming French

  1. Happy first of May to you too Claire. Love the end of this post because I’m so bad with flower names. Love to look at them and to smell them but don’t ask me what they’re called especialy not the translation. I do know oeillet is carnation and coquelicot is poppy. Voilà not too bad! 🙂


    • Do ask at the Post Office Deidre, each stamp has the name and its association printed on the stamp, very useful, had no idea that word was Carnation, and how to pronouce it – well I guess I won’t be buying any of those, and hadn’t seen that strange looking letter it starts with either.

      Don’t you just love how complicated the word Poppy is in French? Reminds me of cock ‘a’ doodle doo!


  2. That is beautiful, Claire! What a wonderful way to celebrate the first of May, sharing a lovely tradition to welcome in the spring.

    I love the language of flowers. I must remember those when searching out new additions to the garden. A few more roses, perhaps? 🙂 Coquelicot is a poppy, I think. Plenty of those, too!

    Merci/diolch/thank you for the mention of Eden’s Garden too.

    Enjoy a month (at least) of following your heart. 🙂


    • Thanks Jan, it is a lovely tradition and gesture, not so grand, just thoughtful and a wonderful way to connect with someone generating smiles and a moment of respite from the norm. From the poeople to the people. I hope you will be back here very soon Jan, I promise to be here next time.


  3. I hadn’t heard of this tradition, how nice!

    We had a special day yesterday – the celebration of the Dutch queen’s birthday. We all have the day off, have street parties, flea markets and lots more. Great fun, especially when lots of people walk around in orange clothes (the colour of the royal family).


    • Actually I just heard from a friend who used to live in Amsterdam that there is a date at the end of april when all the children can sell their toys on the street, I was laughing because my two got that idea in their head and created some patinings, disappearing outside to try and sell them to passerby’s.

      Love how you celebrate the Queen’s birthday, very festive and such a fun ambiance for all the community.


      • That’s right, Claire. It quite a nice celebration. It has a happy feel about it, probably because children are included very much in the festivities.

        Funny that your kids also went out to sell their wares!


  4. I didn’t know you lived in France, Claire. I live in Belgium, but in the Flemish speaking part. And today is the same holiday as it is in France: Dag van de Arbeid. And with the same tradition of flowers, although they are ridiculously expensive her. But they are gorgeous.


    • Is it the same flower that they offer? I did read that it has become a huge economy, to produce all the flowers required for the day, I like the simple inexpensive offerings, just a few sprigs for a few euros, the sentiment is the same and one can afford to generous to more people. So delicate and so beautiful though, it is a lovely tradition.


  5. Ah, so that would explain why I saw so many muguets for sale on the road today! It’s my first May Day in France, so I wasn’t aware of this tradition. Thanks for clarifying! And I love the new stamp book with the flowers – the problem is that I don’t feel like using any of them for the countless admin tasks…


    • Yes, the shopkeepers rest at home today and the people are out (well the florists are open too). I wouldn’t have known either when I first came here if my neighbour hadn’t been so generous and involved me.


  6. Unfortunately, the only tradition in The Netherlands on 01 May which I experience is the problem with computer applications that are down at my office. Some countries celebrate a holiday (FR) and some don’t ( NL) . Confusing for all of us involved. Would you like to trade countries for a while? I could use some “bonheur”!


  7. 1st of May is such a significant day in many parts of the world, except for the US. I love the gesture of flowers, and what a way to welcome newcomers. 🙂


    • It’s fun to learn what everyone celebrates, last year I participated in my first Thanksgiving celebration (here in France), sometimes we just have to improvise. I love adopting new traditions that I like and this one is right up my alley. Simple, thoughful and easy to fulfill without any commercial noise whatsoever.


  8. I have always loved Lily of The Valley and was delighted when I first learned of this custom in France. Such a sweet gesture! Happy May 1st to you. *offering a small bouquet of Le Muguet from my garden*
    Congratulations to Juliet.


    • Thank you Patricia, it is a wonderful ritual full of kindness and compassion and I love that it was started so long ago by one of the Charles. A virtual sprig to you too Patricia, have you really succeeded in growing it in your garden?


  9. Lovely post Claire! Its good to learn about other cultures and stuff. I think it’s such a nice gesture giving someone lily of the valley. It’s beautiful! 🙂


  10. Great post, Claire. What a wonderful tradition… to bad it didn’t spread over the border to neighboring Italy. I love the smell of Lillies of the Valley. And I can always do with a little “porte-bonheur!”: )


  11. As I was driving around yesterday there were so many stands along the highway who were selling the Muguet. Last year I had no idea what that was about, but have since learned of its significance. Thanks for the flower language! I need to put that in my back pocket for future use 🙂


  12. Merci for the education, I had no idea but thanks to your story, today I learned something new. 🙂


    • Thank you for sharing, that’s very kind, I teach English to French adults and I love it when they teach me something new, almost everyday I learn a new word or expression and then life here teaches me things constantly.


      • You are very welcome and thank you for being so kind! I teach Spanish, but for free on line via my website or Youtube. Document translation and article writing is what I do for a living in the languages of English and Spanish. Perhaps one day I will visit France, it is on my “to do list” and a big dream of mine. Hugs 🙂


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