1er Mai : Fête du travail et fête du muguet

The Labor Day ? Mmhhh probably invented by the French !

Indeed, French people like to demonstrate and strike so much that we could believe that they are at the origin of the labor day ... Well, not quite !


In 1793, Fabre d'Eglantine, a French poet, proposed a Labor Day in France which was celebrated for a few years at the « first pluviose » according to the Republican calendar (our current January 20th), but it did not last...


Actually, Labor Day was born in Australia on April 21, 1856 when the workers went on a day strike  to claim the 8-hour day of work.


Subsequently, in 1884, the American unions also decided to ask for the reduction of the working time in order to obtain an 8-hour day instead of 12. Their action began on May 1st because it was the day when the companies began their accounting year and ended the contracts obliging the workers to find work.

The strike of 1 May 1886 was widely followed by the workers throughout the country, to such an extent that the demonstrations continued beyond 1 May.

Sadly, on May 3 in Chicago, three strikers died and the next day seven policemen were killed during a protest march. Five anarchist trade unionists were then sentenced to death and executed the following year to finally be recognized as innocent victims of a politico-police conspiracy. 

Labor Day in France

On June 20, 1889, the International Socialist Congress of Paris gathered for the centenary of the French Revolution, makes May 1 as the International Day of Workers in Memory of the Chicago Day Events. This day aims to fight for an 8-hour work day. 


On May 1, 1890, the workers marched with a red triangle to the buttonhole symbolizing their demands : 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of recreation for the family. The red triangle is replaced by a red wild rose from the 1891, then a strand of lily of the valley with a red ribbon in 1907. 


On May 1, 1891, in France at Fourmies (a small town in the north), the army fired on the demonstrators. 10 people died. Since then, this day has become for French people an other symbol of the struggle of workers to improve their rights. But it was not until 1941 that May 1st became a public holiday in France. In 1941, France was occupied by Germany. Marshal Pétain is at the head of the country, he fears a new demonstration of the workers and decides to make of the 1 May a public holiday and calls it "La Fête du travail” (“Labor Day”). Over time, this day has become the symbol of the struggle of the workers. This is why many trade unions, (« Syndicats » in French), demonstrate that day.


Labor Day was and remains an international festival. Today, Labor Day is very important in France. No one works that day ! You will not find a bus or tram to get around, no need to try to shop everything is closed. There are two options for you : parade in the traditional May Day demonstration or enjoy your day off with friends and family !

Why offering Lily of the valley that day ?

Offering  lily of the valley the first may is almost a natural gesture since the spring returned, all flowers hatch.

Already among the Romans, May represented the month of the Flowers and they celebrated a festival in honor of the goddess Flora.




But why choose and officialized Lily of the valley in France ?


It seems that the lily of the valley, a plant originally from Japan, has been present in Europe since the Middle Ages. The plant with bells always symbolized the spring and the Celts granted him virtues luck.



During the Renaissance, May 1st represented the feast of love during which a crown of flowers was made to offer to the loved one. The lily of the valley, blooming in the month of May, often adorned these crowns.


At the same time, on May 1, 1561, King Charles IX made things official : having received a strand of lily of the valley as a lucky charm, he decided to offer it to the ladies of the court every year. The tradition was born.


The flower is also that of the encounters in love. For a long time, "balls of the lily of the valley" were organized in Europe. It was one of the only balls of the year that the parents were not allowed to attend. On that day the girls dressed in white and the boys adorned their buttonholes with a sprig of lily of the valley.

In Paris, at the beginning of the century, the couturiers offered three strands to the workers and small hands. But it was not until 1976 that he was associated with the May Day celebration. On the buttonhole of the demonstrators, he replaced the red triangle which symbolized the division of the day into three equal parts: work, sleep, leisure.


 The tradition of offering lily of the valley on May 1 lasts until today and anyone can sell lily of the valley in the street, there are no formalities or taxes that day. For the most superstitious, only a bit of Lily of the valley with 13 bells would bring happiness...



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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Lauren (Wednesday, 01 May 2019 13:41)

    Merci pour l'histoire. It was really interesting :)


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