May Day: Lily of the Valley

Today is May Day, a European festival with ancient origins celebrated on the first of May marking the halfway point between the spring equinox and the beginning of summer. In some parts of Europe, such as Germany the festivities started on April 30, known as Walpurgis the eve of May Day (or the Gaelic festival known as Beltane), and celebrated with bonfires and dances.

The Old World traditions for May Day or Beltane often included gathering wildflowers and budding green branches, weaving floral crowns, wreaths, and garlands, and crowning a May Queen, and sometimes with a male companion. A Maypole was set up in the public square where often the youth or single young adults danced circling the pole and weaving colorful streamers around it. May Day became These festivities were popular through the 19th and 20th centuries in America including the tradition of giving May baskets of flowers left anonymously on neighbor's and friends door steps. 

In 1889, the first of May was chosen as the date for International Workers' Day in Chicago and the struggle for an eight-hour working day. As a result, International Workers' Day is also called "May Day", but the two are otherwise unrelated. Also, in France Labour Day or Fête du Travail occurs on the 1st of May. It is the day of demonstrations and trade union protests for many French people.- and this year especially in Paris. 

Image from Graphics Fairy

I have fond memories of celebrating May Day when I was in grade school. We would celebrate the day dancing around a Maypole. Often the pole was the tetherball pole with the rope and attached ball removed - and like magic, the pole would be dressed in pastel streamers which we would weave the streamers around the maypole as we danced. Our teachers asked us to bring flowers from our yard to school to share for a special class project. With construction paper, we would weave little pastel-colored paper baskets, or make cones from construction paper and dress them up with ribbons and paper doilies. After the containers were completed we would fill our little baskets or cones with our flowers and when school ended, we would secretly hang them on the front door of someone special – usually our mothers. My mother was good at this game and never disappointed me. On the morning of May Day she would help me cut flowers to take to school never asking why, and always acted surprised holding the basket of flowers she just happened to find at our front door as I sneaked in the back door.

Today I don’t hear much about these traditions. I have to wonder if they were stopped by the same mentality of people who are about book banning and revising the history taught to our children, especially since these traditions are about the rebirth of our earth which is too close to sex education and the ever so wicked Maypole that could be construed as a stripper pole, especially if an ambitious book banning momma did some history on this ancient holiday. In the old English classic novel Fanny Hill written around the mid-1700s, there was some reference to the Maypole being a phallic symbol for the rebirth of spring. Now, you can bet that’s one book that’s been banned… Hey, and with that said I am surprised the pole used for tetherball is still hanging around on the playgrounds 

Across the pond in France, May Day is also referred to as La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day), as people traditionally give bouquets to loved ones, especially in Paris. This information about La Fête du Muguet really caught my eye, as the first fragrance I ever wore starting in junior high was Muguet des Bois by Coty. It was a fragrance my mother gave me "permission" to wear as the fragrance was light and floral and without a "sexy" title. To this day I still love that fragrance and Lily of the Valley is a favorite flower.

The origins of La Fête du Muguet started around the first of May in 1561 when King Charles IX of France received a Lily of the Valley as a lucky charm and gave the delicate white flower each year to the ladies of the court. At the beginning of the 20th century, it became customary to give a sprig of Lily of the Valley on May 1. Today the French may present their loved ones with bunches of this delicate white flower with wide green leaves, or will even plant it in their gardens for good luck and happiness all year long. 


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