May 1st in France

By Monique Palomares

May 1st : this day has been a protest day in France since 1889 as a tribute to the workers of Chicago who died during the riots in 1886.

It was a day off dedicated to demonstrations (off, but unpaid). It’s been a (paid) public holiday since 1947. There are workers and trade unions that still hold demonstrations, though they tend to be less important than in the past.

Lily of the Valley is sold everywhere in France on May Day. Originally, people used to give a sprig of it as a symbol of Spring in the Paris area (you can’t find wild Lily of the Valley in the South of France). Now Lily of the Valley is also a symbol of Labor Day.

Monique works with me on Mama Lisa’s World en fran├žais. – Lisa

Here’s more information about Labor Day around the world.

This article was posted on Sunday, April 30th, 2006 at 11:06 am and is filed under Amish, Countries & Cultures, France, Gabrielinos, Holidays Around the World, Labor Day, Mama Lisa, May Day. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

6 Responses to “May 1st in France”

  1. Monique Says:

    At first, as early as 1890, workers demonstrating wore a red triangle meaning 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep, and 8 hours of free time. Then they progressively replaced it by an eglantine (a type of wild rose). In 1907 in Paris, they wore a sprig of lily of the valley with a red ribbon. Later, the red ribbon disappeared and nowadays we buy or give as a present a sprig or a pot of lily of the valley, we don’t wear it at our button hole to go demonstrating.

    The poems about May we teach our students generally mention the lily of the valley but are generally under copyright so far.

  2. Lisa Says:

    Hi Monique,

    I’m curious about who you would give the lily of the valley plants to?

    Here in the US we don’t give gifts for Labor Day. We often have a barbeque/party. It’s usually the last barbeque of the year, since our Labor Day is the first Monday in September.


  3. Monique Says:

    As it’s for good luck, we buy it for ourselves first (charity begins at home!) But suppose I were invited to some friend’s house or I visited some relatives tomorrow, I might bring a small pot or a tiny bunch -generally, there are 3 or 4 sprigs of them. Young students sometimes give one to their teacher too. It’s not a real “gift”, it’s just what we call “an attention”.

  4. May 1st - Tips & Tidbits - Foire de Paris, French public holidays Tips & Tidbits - Paris Logue Says:

    […] May 1st is a public holiday in France,comparable to Labor Day in the U.S. You’ll also see Lilies-of-the-valley being sold throughout France. You give this to bouquet of flowers to friends to bring them good luck. When we first came to France to our first home in Normandy back in 1989, our friend, Angelique met us at the airport with a bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley. I was surprised to learn at the Alliance Francaise site of Vancouver that May 1st is a relatively ‘new’ hoiday, starting in 1941. My first guess would have been a rapport with Russian’s May 1st celebration – but according to the Alliance Francais site, the origins of this holiday go back to Chicago when on May 1st in 1886 the Chicago labor unions succeeded in cutting back the work day to 8 hours. Mama Lisa’s World Blog adds to this that the May 1st date also was a memorial to protesters who were killed in the Chicago riots of 1886. […]

  5. Parisgirl Says:

    It’s good to know the origins of the May 1st holiday – I’ve created a link to this post for Parislogue readers. Thanks for filling us in on the details.
    Monique, have the lillies-of-the-valley ever brought anyone you know good luck?

  6. Monique Says:

    Good question! I don’t think that anybody ever demonstrated that good luck was due with certainty to lilies-of-the-valley, horse shoes hunging on your door, the wish you did when seeing a shooting star… The only good luck we’re sure of about lily-of-the-valley is that it tells you “someone’s being nice to me”. Isn’t that the best luck we can have? Everything else is a matter of beliefs, then let everybody believe what suits him/her best!