The history of why the French give lily of the valley can be traced back to Roman times. The Romans celebrated, at the beginning of May, the Floralia, in honor of Flora, goddess of flowers. The Floralia was held between April 28 and May 3 and symbolized the renewal of the cycle of life, drinking, and flowers. In Greece, wreaths of the flowers are hung at the entrance to houses. In folklore it is said to protect gardens from evil spirits and that fairies drink from it(s tiny cup-like flowers.
But why do the French give lily of the valley on May Day?
The tradition of giving a sprig of this lovely, fragrant flower on 1st May dates back to the 16th century and the court of Charles IX. On May 1, it was customary in the countryside to offer a branch to chase away the curse of winter . In 1560, King Charles IX visited the Drôme where he was offered a sprig of lily of the valley. Enchanted by it’s perfume and delicate flowers, the following year he offered it to the ladies of the Court as a lucky charm. The tradition continued every year and spread, beyond the court, to the rest of the country.
Socialist movement demand paid holiday
In the late 19th century/early 20th century, the socialist movement adopted the Lily of the valley as their symbol, replacing the red triangular badge. The first official May Day holiday (with pay!) was granted b the Vichy government in 1942 but it wasn’t until 1948 that it became an annual holiday. Despite consumer demand, it is one of the most respected bank holidays in France with most shops closed all day.
So if your French neighbour knocks on your door this morning, you’ll know why the French give lily of the valley on May Day!