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France's other May Day tradition

Last year, French people spent €31.8m on Lily of the Valley plants that symbolise love and affection

SHOPS are shut, buses are not running, and unions are marching for workers’ rights, as France marks the Fête du Travail today.

But, as well as work and workers, May 1 - which became a public holiday in France in 1947 - is associated with an older tradition. It is the Fête du Muguet, when thousands of roadside stalls selling lily of the valley spring up.

The flower only became associated with workers’ rights in the 20th century.

Last year the French forked out €31.8m to buy a sprig of lily of the valley (“muguet”) as a token of affection for family and loved ones.

The tradition of giving lily of the valley flowers on May 1 is said to have begun in 1560, when knight Louis Girard presented King Charles IX with a bunch of lily-of-the-valley flowers as a token of luck and prosperity for the coming year.

It is said that he took a shine to the idea and began the custom of presenting lily-of-the-valley flowers to the ladies of his court each year on the same day.

Growers, particularly in the Loire-Atlantique, where 80% of cultivated plants will come from this year, have said that the recent mild conditions mean a bumper crop.

Photo: Liz West

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