May Day & Lily of the Valley: Bringing Happiness to Others

On May 1st in France, you'll see le muguet (Lily of the Valley) sold everywhere on the city streets--more than 50 million stems of its blooms are bought in France each May Day to give to friends and neighbors. The tradition dates to the Renaissance, when Charles IX offered it to those around him as porte-bonheur--to bring good luck and happiness. The flower is also a favorite for spring wedding bouquets, having been chosen by Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn (in her wedding to Andrea Dotti and in Funny Face), and Kate Middleton.

Premier mai, vente de muguet by R Garcia Suarez

A Coty perfume ad from the May 1965 New Yorker magazine issue

Did you ever make May Day bouquets as a child? Just once, I remember the bliss and excitement of hanging a paper bouquet on a neighbor's door, ringing the bell, and running away.   Children love giving gifts to neighbors--perhaps all the more if it doesn't require talking to them! I'm looking forward to helping my children collect flowers to share with a neighbor or two today--especially since we've been having gloriously sunny weather!

Vintage French postcard featuring Lily of the Valley for May 1st

The Lily of the Valley in my garden

Muguet des bois (the woodland variety) grows beneath the pear tree in our backyard here in Oregon, and it always seems to bloom for May Day. I love how it reminds me of life in France, but all the more, I love giving it to my French neighbor on May Day. (She's a native Parisian, a mama, and a fellow French teacher. How lucky I am to have her nearby!) When I first gave her a muguet bouquet a few years ago, she was thrilled because it had been years since she'd seen it and she knew it had a French tradition of bringing good luck and happiness.

Muguet is a plant that grows well in damp, cool, wooded places (it's the national flower of Finland), and it's fairly invasive because it spreads like a carpet by sending rhizomes underground. It's also extremely poisonous, so I keep an eye on my toddler when its red berries appear in autumn. But the scent is delicate, sweet, and fresh--surely one of the lightest, loveliest scents in nature. As a mama of small children, I wouldn't plant it knowing that it's toxic, but since I can't keep it from coming back, I enjoy it's beauty and scent in our yard!

So, Mes amis, I hope this May Day post on Lily of the Valley brings you happiness and good luck. If you're blessed with spring flowers where you are, find some blooms to share with those around you. I'm sure your children will love helping you spread happiness!

Pink spring-blooming Clematis on our trellis

What is your favorite spring bloom? What does May bring in your life and in the life of your family? (Birthdays? Baby showers? For my family, May is always the peak season of my husband's track and field coaching, and I know many of you could also use support for your seasons of busyness and single parenting.)