The muguet tradition in France: Lily of the Valley sold on French street corners on May 1st
Sunday, April 30, 2006
le muguet (mew-geh) n.m.
: lily of the valley
Question: So what are the French doing today, the first of May, besides la grasse matinée?
Answer: Waving snow-white porte-bonheurs through the air and wishing each other good luck!
Along little cobblestone paths in the French hinterland, and at noisy intersections across the city, French vendeurs de muguet are taking over street curbs with buckets of lilies of the valley and shouting Le muguet du premier mai!--cashing in on today's national holiday, Labor Day (or La Fête du Travail).
On May 1st it is the custom to offer loved ones little bouquets of those sweet-scented, clochette-shaped flowers--in a gesture of friendship and in celebration of spring. It's la Fête du Muguet!
Today, commerçants are handing out the friendship flowers: the butcher (who should be off work, non?) is offering un brin de muguet to his faithful clients and some fancy boxed cakes have been seen leaving the chocolate shop with the little white flowers--les lys des vallées--tucked beneath the shiny ribbons that fasten the boxes.
"Ah, bon?" My mother-in-law replies over the phone, étonnée. "Shopkeepers here in Marseilles don't offer muguet!"
After a moment of silence, she quietly admits that no one has ever offered her a bouquet of muguet des bois.... But that doesn't stop my belle-maman from taking un petit brin to her 'little neighbor' downstairs, a custom she took up several years ago, to add cheer to the lonely foyer of another forgotten heart.
Woman selling lily of the valley at her tiny pop-up stand on the port of Bandol
Bonne Fête du Muguet! Good luck to you in the challenges you face--bon courage wherever on this globe you may call home
The following lyrics are from the beloved French folk singer George Brassens. Check out his music
Le premier mai c'est pas gai / The first of May is not cheerful
Je trime a dit le muguet / I slave away, said the lily of the valley
Dix fois plus que d'habitude / Ten times more than usual
Regrettable servitude / A regrettable encumbrance
Muguet, sois pas chicaneur / Muguet, don't be a quibbler
Car tu donnes du bonheur / Because you make people happy...
Brin d' muguet, tu es quelqu'un... / Little bouquet of lily, you are somebody...
faire la grasse matinée = "to do the fat morning" (to sleep in); un porte-bonheur (m) = lucky charm; vendeur, vendeuse de muguet = lily of the valley seller; Le muguet du premier mai! = The First of May's Lily of the Valley (buy some now)!; lys des vallées = lily of the valley, la clochette (f) = bell; commerçant(e) (adj) = businesslike; commerçant(e) (mf) = shopkeepers; Ah, bon? = oh, really?; étonné(e) = puzzled; le muguet des bois (m) = "lily of the woods" (woodruff); la belle-maman (f) = mother-in-law; un petit brin (m) = "a little blade" (a little bouquet); coo-toom (pronunciation for 'coutume' (f) = custom
AUDIO FILE--hear my son, Max, pronounce the word 'muguet':
When you order via Amazon your purchase helps support this word journal...
Floral Lily Of The Valley Luxury Hand Cream, order here
Lily of the Valley cup and saucer - Fine English bone china
Lily of The Valley by Yardley of London for Women Eau De Toilette Spray, order here.
6 Very Large, Fresh, Plump Lily of the Valley Bare Root Plants
People relaxing and children playing on the premier mai, or fête du travail in Bandol, France.
A Message from Kristi: Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.
Ways to contribute:
1. Paypal or credit card
2. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.
Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety