1er Mai, Fête du Muguet

Muguet

The first day of May in France is La Fête du Travail (Labor Day). It is a holiday, which is nice, except when it’s a Sunday and then you feel slighted. Anyway.

May 1 is also La Fête du Muguet, and the tradition is to give the ones you love a little bouquet of lily-of-the-valley, for good luck and to celebrate the arrival of spring. Originally the idea was to take the kids into the forest and lose them pick your own muguet together. Of course, in the city you will more likely buy it from the florist’s, or better yet, from one of the countless stands that sprout up overnight on every street corner and every road in France, most of them doing this as a fundraiser for one cause or another. Some years you really feel sorry for them, sitting in the cold and rain and hardly selling anything, but this year they are in luck, as the last couple of days have been a fabulous sneak preview of summer, all bright skies and super-warm temps.

On another note, the new issue of the New York Times “T” magazine comes out today, and includes a piece I have written for them about cook-dating, a new cooking-class-cum-dating-service that has been invented here in Paris. The article is called Love at first bite and it is available online (second piece from the top).

  • joan

    Clotilde, have you ANY idea how much I love lily-of-the-valley! I live a few kms from the Blue Mountains where I can go in Springtime and see gorgeous clumps of them…they don’t seem to survive where I live..so I travel to see them…faint faint faint at their beauty!

  • Dan

    you know, I am an addict for your writings. I’ve never been to Paris and have always wanted to go. I would like to thnak you for your daily-life, food-centric view of your life in Paris.

  • http://www.writersbloc.biz writersbloc gal

    growing up in russia, and having may 1st as your bday, i was always impressed with how many parades they had in my honor. it wasn’t til i was a bit older that my dad had to explain to me that may 1st was also a labor holiday. i do love lilly-of-the-valley…. i learned in a museum at grasse, that this is the only flower out of which people haven’t yet been able to extract a fragrance. so everything that is lilly-of-the-valley scented is man-made. the scent molecules are identical, but one is natural, and one is man-made.

  • http://www.pumpkinpiebungalow.blogspot.com Ana

    Hi Clotilde, loved your article. What an interesting concept that one of the cook-dating. Wonder how long will it take for someone in Canada to copy the idea.

  • http://www.fancyglass.blogspot.com/ lauren in Tokyo

    the cookdating piece is so cute. What a little slice of life. I am sure there will be branches springing up everywhere. I am planning on reccomemending this to a friend who teaches at a cooking school here in Tokyo.

    *lauren

  • craig

    was going through a ‘good eating’ section in one of last month’s Chicago Tribunes and saws the article on your website. My wife and i made our first trip to Paris in September and your site brings back many great memories of the Marais district where we stayed and the great food we experienced. Thanks!

  • Rainey

    I just LOVE lily of the valley. We used to have a large clump of them when I was growing up in New York state. Now I live in Los Angeles where I’ve never been able to grow them. …not even the chilled pips. I get foliage but never the sweet, fairy flowers.

    It was a treat to open your blog and see them. Felicitations sur la Fete du Muguet!

  • kudzu

    What a lovely May Day gift! I adore the flowers and have succeeded in raising only an occasional flowering plant in Northern California. Spring is finally here. I have had so much pleasure from checking your moblog each day, watching the light change in your cityscape and reading of seasonal foods.
    Thank you, Clotilde.

  • Bee

    Beautiful photo of my beloved Lily of the Valley, Clotilde.

    We have a similar, though forgotten holiday on May 1st, called May Day. I remember my Grandmother telling me that in “the old days” (1920-1940???), you’d gather a small nosegay of whatever blooms were around, tie them together, and then visit your friends homes. You’d tie the bouquet to the door, knock or ring the door bell, and then hide behind a shrub as they found the posies. It was always supposed to remain a mystery as to the origins of the flowers. I’ve done the same thing for years, with my closest friends. I save interesting ‘food jars’ and then fill them with Spring flowers, tie on a bow, and drop them off at friend’s homes. Of course, there’s no sense ringing the doorbell, since NO ONE is home during the day any longer, but they find them when they crawl home, late at night, which I guess makes it an even nicer treat.

    Are Muguet as expensive in Paris as they are from Stateside florists? Here, they sell for $1.00 per stem, so a bridal bouquet of them can run in the $100′s. Also, have you seen PINK lily of the valley? I have several clumps at my cottage and they are gifts from the fairies!

  • http://terreadelie.no-distance.net/etplus/carnet/ Adélie

    Wel well well, I’ve juste seen your moblog’s last pictures, and… :-)

    1. We had dinner at L’homme tranquille on saturday evening (for the second time), and we told the amazingly nice owner that we first heard about his restaurant in your blog. He told us that you were there the night before, and then gave us another adress that belongs to his family : Le bar à thym…
    2. Where did we have a brunch on sunday ? Rose bakery, of course…
    3. And right after that ? we went to Pathé Wepler and saw Garden State…

    We *really* live in the same neighbourhood, don’t we ? ;-)

    • janev

      We went to L’homme Tranquille several times in January this year during a visit to Paris. We were smitten – it is such a good restaurant – the fish is highly recommended and the manager is very hospitable. We have posted a review on Trip Advisor, for those of you who are interested.

      Thank you Clotilde for your tip

      • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

        That’s great to hear, thanks for reporting back.

  • http://www.toomanychefs.com Meg

    Clotilde, lillies of the valley are my favorite flower and every year I wait with anticipation for May 1 so I can buy some. And most years I buy them in a pot so that I can try (unsuccessfully so far) to grow them on my balcony. When I was growing up, my grandmother’s house was surrounded by them and every year when they were in bloom she would call me up so that I could come over and pick them. It’s amazing how strong a memory a smell can evoke, isn’t it?

    Congratulations on the article – I’m about to go read it!

  • Michelle

    Clotilde,

    Your note on picking flowers with the kids just made me laugh out loud. You cracked me up!

  • penni

    Clotilde,
    This is my first year in Paris and had wondered why people give each other lilies of the valley on Sunday. Now I have the explanation. My butcher gave me a couple. Does it mean he loves me? BTW it was my first visit to his shop. Could it really be love at first sight? :)))

  • ebba

    ahh…! So that’s why there’s a lily-of-the-valley in my kitchen! and that’s why they were eveywhere in the supermarket…! thanks!

  • Carolyn

    Clotilde, thank you for reminding me that spring is coming! I live in Calgary, Canada, where spring and winter fight for dominance from February through May (I know you had a somewhat bleak experience here a few years ago…). It’ll be a while until we smell le muguet here, but you’ve given me something to look forward to!

  • Heron

    Lily of the valley is wonderful and has an intoxicating smell. However know too, children licking water off the leaves have died. A leaf or two could do an adult in. Still, I haven’t heard of mass deaths from the plant and it grows all over the world. Here in Canada too. The water in the vase after the blooms fade should be disposed of. Overcautious I suppose, but be aware!

    This is not intended to scare you. Just treat it with respect!

    Heron

  • Mimi J.

    I was in Paris on May 1, 2005, and it smelled heavenly. We walked through the Bastille area and the Marais and across Ile St. Louis into the Latin Quarter. Everywhere, les muguets! Vive le 1 Mai, le fete du muguet.

  • Georges

    May Day 1981 in Paris for the weekend – went out to Versailles – bought a bunch of muguets. Today, May Day 2007 (yes, it still is here), found one florist here in Richmond, British Columbia, who had just received a shipment – bought two bunches for my dear Swiss wife ($10 CAD per bunch) – the gentle fragrance is wonderful. Thanks for your article.

  • kerta georges

    like this old anecdote, (I would give an arm and a leg) for a bouquet of lily of- the- valley
    I am impressesd of the information
    i read about it. My russian co-worker surprisingly let me smell a fragrance today when i was on the telephone trying to find a florist to order the flower as a gift to myself no matter how much it would cost , but unfortunately, that was not the case. I just learned that this is the only flower out of which people have’nt been yet able to extract a fragrance; therefore, everything that is lily of the valley scented is man made. thank you for information. vive le muguet. Le 1 Mai est non seulement la fete du muguet, c’est aussi la fete du travail et de l’amour. surprise!

  • kerta georges

    like this old anecdote, (I would give an arm and a leg) for a bouquet of lily of- the- valley
    I am impressesd of the information
    i read about it. My russian co-worker surprisingly let me smell a fragrance today when i was on the telephone trying to find a florist to order the flower as a gift to myself no matter how much it would cost , but unfortunately, that was not the case. I just learned that this is the only flower out of which people have’nt been yet able to extract a fragrance; therefore, everything that is lily of the valley scented is man made. thank you for information. vive le muguet. Le 1 Mai est non seulement la fete du muguet, c’est aussi la fete du travail et de l’amour. surprise!

  • Christiane wood

    I was living in Alsace … East of France,
    to offer a muguet on the 1 may , means you offer them a good luck flower … In Alsace the scouts go from door to door and sale a little bouquet and make some little money … Sometimes they seat on the church porch after the mass to sale this nice flower for a good action . I am living in Texas and try for 10 years to plant muguet but with no success , I try again this year ,,,,,have a nice 1 May and good luck too . Bonjour a tows , cw

  • Dorothy

    I came home to Norway yesterday after showing my 15 yr old daughter “la ville lumière” ; her first time and my 9th or 10th. It was exactly as you described, Clothilde; lily of the valley everywhere! Even the chocolatiers produce creations resembling these delightful flowers! It’s not suprising that Kate Middleton chose it for her bridal bouquet!
    I bought several small nose-gays over the weekend, for our bedside table in the hotel and to give to my daughter. I brought one home in my handbag too but didn’t live to tell the tale, despite me wrapping the stems with wet tissue and wrapping them in a tight plastic bag :(
    It certainly was a celebration of spring for us, coming from Norway where the first leaves on the trees only just began to open as we travelled to Paris. The spring flowers in the Jardin de Luxembourg were in full bloom -and the roses in the Tuilleries- aaah, the fragrance was heavenly!
    I feel that we’re really lucky, having first experienced spring in Paris and now being able to enjoy our favourite season yet again as I see my garden here in Oslo come awake. The tiny shoots of my lily-of-the-valley are about 1cm above ground and growing by the minute!
    Vive le printemps!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I’m so please you and your daughter had such a good time in Paris, Dorothy, thanks for telling us about it. Enjoy the Norwegian spring!

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