Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The First of May

A charming thing happens the first of May in France.
The entire country is awash in the lovely scent of Lily of the Valley. Friends and neighbors share a small sprig of this portent of good things to come. A moment to catch up from the rainy days of early spring and share a smile for the long summer days to come.
There is a long history of the joy this flower symbolizes. Here are a few tidbits of folklore that have been passed on:
-During the Renaissance a sprig of lilies of the valley was given to chase away whatever lingered from the departing winter-- bad weather, ominous omens and perhaps guests that brought far too large an army with them.  In 1569 King Charles the 9th was given a sprig. He was so pleased that in the following year he had them offered to all the women of the court as a sign of good luck.
-At some point dances were held held where the young girls wore white frocks and the boys brought a small bouquet of Lilies of the Valley to give to their sweet heart. This was the one dance a year when parents were not in attendance......
-In the Middle Ages hanging a Lily of the Valley over the door of a loved one was a way to ask for that loved one’s hand in marriage. This same flower was the symbol of the 13th year of marriage. And if you really want to guarantee the efficacy of this symbol it is important to search for a sprig that carries 13 flower bells (No, pulling off the fourteenth flower is cheating.)
-The doors of paradise are decorated with this sweet, elegant, bell-shaped flower and every time a brave soul passes through the pearly gates the tiny bells sound. 
-In Greece it is said that Apollo created the Lily of the Valley so that the 9 muses could walk on a carpet soft enough to keep from hurting their feet. This story led to households suspending a garland of flowers over the entrance to their homes.
France loves these tender, rustic traditions. She also loves having her hand in some interesting details of life. Here are the national regulations, intended to safeguard what must be a mighty, mighty, fierce, and frighty, political force: florists. 
Anyone can sell lilies of the valley on this one day as long as:
-the plants were not intentionally grown to be sold and there can be no roots attached
-there is no wrapping on the bouquet
And then certain villages can take this even further
-the tender rustic seller must be 40 meters away from a florist
-the seller can not set a table or bench.  (Thank goodness for baskets!)
-there are to be no other types of flowers added into the bouquet
So don’t cross the government, keep the offering simple, smile as you give or receive this portent of happiness, and enjoy being part of a very long, heart-warming tradition.

1 comment:

Lynn at Southern Fried French said...

WHAT a sweet story! We love the custom and follow it but I never knew the whole story. A beautiful post.