It is May Day, and while The Ragazza makes merry in Oxford, where she has been celebrating since dawn, I am drawn to previous years and especially my first premier mai in Brittany.
I'd been looking forward to it since, let me think, 1995, the year I embarked on my degree studies with the Open University and the first French module, Cadences, which was educational, lots of fun and which introduced me to the French festivities.
On May Day in France it is customary for the local school children to come to your door selling bunches of lily-of-the-valley because in addition to this being La Fête du Travail (Labour Day), it is also La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day).
The flowers were brought to Europe from Japan in the Middle Ages and the Celts consider them to be tokens of good luck. On May 1st, 1561, Charles IX of France was presented with a bunch and thus began the French tradition of giving lily-of-the-valley as good luck charms.
The shops sell the flowers now, but in past times people would venture into the fields to collect them to sell to make a little money, on May Day they did not have to pay sales tax on the earnings . Le ramassage du muguet, 1964
So, armed with your lily-of-the-valley, preferably bought from the school kids rather than the supermarkets, you venture forth to find your friends, give them hugs and the customary cheek kisses, and a sprig of flower, for good luck.
I'd hoped to be back in Brittany for le premier mai so that I could take part in the festivities. I should have lily-of-the-valley flowering in my garden ready to give to friends because the ones I buy at the door fill vases and jam jars on every windowsill, tant pis they'll have to wait a while longer. I daresay they'll benefit from another year of being left to grow.
Since in the 'language of flowers' lily-of-the-valley signals a return to happiness, I wish you all a joyeux premier mai and much happiness for the coming summer months.