la fête du muguet et du travail

Le Muguet

Le Muguet

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

In the month of May do what your heart fancies.

Provencal proverb

Today is a public holiday here in France, to commemorate la fête du travail and la fête du muguet.

I wrote a little about this tradition two years ago here, sharing my experience of a neighbour knocking on our apartment door and presenting me with this small token of friendship and bonheur (happiness) le muguet. Around town, I noticed people selling the small flowers in the street.

This commemoration actually has two origins and two separate histories, one dating back to the Middle Ages and the other to Chicago in 1886.

La muguet, also known as lys des vallées (lily of the valley) is a plant originating in Japan, long symbolising the arrival of spring, and on 1 May 1561, the year he became King, Charles IX chose it as a gift to bring bonheur to the women of the royal court.

Charles IX, King of France 1560-1574

Charles IX, King of France 1560-1574

It wasn’t until 1976 that it was also associated with la fête du 1er mai, la fête du travail.

In Chicago in 1886 a movement was launched to lobby for the 8 hour working day and the 1st of May was chosen to commemorate it. A strike involving 400,000 workers on May 4, referred to as the Haymarket Riot, paralysed a number of factories, the protest became violent resulting in the death of a dozen people including seven police.

Haymarket Riot, 4 May 1886, Chicago, Illinois

Haymarket Riot, 4 May 1886, Chicago, Illinois

In June 1889 in Paris, for the centenary of the French revolution, it was decided to associate the 1st of May with the objective of attaining the 8 hour working day and in commemoration of the movement launched in Chicago on 1 May 1886.

Initially, they wore a red triangle to represent the triple objectives, 8 hours work, 8 hours sleep, 8 hours of leisure. This was replaced by the flower l’églantine and finally in 1907 by le muguet.

On 23 April 1919, the 8 hour day was ratified by the French senate and on 24 April 1941, during the German occupation,  the 1st of May was officially designated la fête du travail.

8 hours

Today la fête du travail is celebrated in most countries across Europe, except Switzerland and the Netherlands. It is also celebrated in South Africa, Latin America, Russia and Japan.  In the UK, the first Monday in May is celebrated and in the US, Labour Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September.

Voila! Bonne fête à tout le monde.

17 thoughts on “la fête du muguet et du travail

  1. Thank you for this. Marie Paule brought me a muguet yesterday and now I know the meaning behind it. Karin

    Sent from my iPad



    • Oh no! Maybe in London there are enough French people that the florists have picked up on the tradition, if not someone ought to start a new trend, I mean they’ve already picked up the bises on both cheeks! So no holiday for you today then?


      • Well… in London there might be some I don’t know but it didn’t reach my little kentish town, no…So work for me today but bank holiday on monday so really, I shouldn’t complain! 😉


  2. Enjoy the day!! Hope the sun is shining and you have been sitting outside, drinking some good wine.


    • The sun is shining, but the Mistral is relentless! Saving the wine for tomorrow, in fact I shall be drinking champagne to the good health of a writer friend, whose recent success I am going to post about very soon. Watch out for Scattered Dreams coming up soon. You are going to love this story!


  3. Beautiful and informative post, Claire! I love that Provencal proverb 🙂 Love the picture of Le Muguet. I also love the triple-8 philosophy (8 hours work, 8 hours rest, 8 hours leisure). It is a beautiful philosophy to strive for.


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