Coursier: Delivering my dog's tumor to the post office...
S'esclaffer: Never do this alone in France

Mois & May in France: two things to know

Muguet or lily of the valley for May 1st in France or premier mai en france. (c) Kristin Espinasse

Friday is May 1st. Be prepared by reading about the Muguet tradition : Click here or here. And many thanks to the writer Mary Ellen Gallagher, whose thoughtful notes and research inspired today's post. 

le mois (mwah)

    : month

ça fait des mois
= it's been months
arrondir ses fins de mois =
to supplement one's income
tous les trente-six du mois = rarely, once in a blue moon

Listen to Jean-Marc read this French sentence: 
Download MP3 or Wav

Le premier mai on donne du muguet et, pour certains, mai, c'est le Mois de Marie.
On May 1st we offer Lily of the Valley and, for some, May is the Month of Mary.

Tita-coverToday we have the pleasure of reading an excerpt from Marie Houzelle's novel " Tita." Marie and I met at The Paris Writer's workshop four summers ago and I am inspired by her success ever since she rode off on her bike that last day of school. The following story gives many helpful insights into French life and a certain May tradition. Enjoy, and merci beaucoup, Marie!

an extract from Marie Houzelle’s novel Tita

“At ten past eight, (my sister) Coralie and I hang our baskets around our necks and go to the garden to choose our flowers. Peonies, dahlias, sweet peas, narcissi. Mother said we can take only those that are completely open, and where at least one or two petals have started shriveling. I snip off the whole blossom… and we pull the petals off into our baskets. Then, intoxicated by the surfeit of scents, the sharp red ones, the acid yellow, the many shades of pink, the quiet white, we stand among the rose bushes, fingering the supple membranes, the soft shallow cups, warm from the afternoon sun.

Soon the organ starts and we’re all on the move again, for the procession. In front, four choirboys carry a statue of the Virgin Mary, and we follow… reciting the rosary as we walk, one Our Father, ten Hail Mary’s and again, five times, while the organ punctuates our prayers with crisp cheerful chords. After each decade of the rosary, the bearers stop in front of a different side chapel, where incense burns and lights shine on the statue. Then, as the rest of us pass the chapel, singing, we throw our petals to the Virgin. I so love to sing, I tend to get carried away and not pay attention to what I’m doing. But we need to be careful: there are five decades, five stops in front of chapels, and it doesn’t look good if we spend all our petals too soon and then have nothing to throw but air.

For each stop there’s a different hymn but in between chapels we go back to C’est le mois de Marie, where Mary’s compare to the spring, to a lily (pure), a violet (humble) and a rose (loving). During the last decade, the Virgin is taken to the middle of the chancel, and everybody faces her to recite her litany. In Latin, not in French… The Latin invocations sound so much more thrilling: Rosa mystica, Turris eburnea, Domus aurea … as if ivory, gold, morning were burned into the Virgin’s substance. The Latin, the sweet scents, the songs waft me above the ground, and I seem to swing there, light and swift. Giddy.

Our baskets are empty now, so we can skip and romp through the narrow winding street around the church and into the avenue, greeted as we pass by the many older people who sit in cafes, or on benches and chairs outside their houses, enjoying the fresh air and the action. Among the adults, all but a few devout women eschew the Mois de Marie ceremonies, which take place around the usual dinner time. But at nine thirty, when we children walk home, the whole population of the town is out.

*    *    *
To comment on Marie Houzelle's story, or some of the thoughts it sparked--about traditions, childhood, family, church or France--click here

Marie Houzelle 

Marie Houzelle is the author of No Sex Last Noon (I Want Press). Her stories and poems have appeared in Serre-Feuilles, Pharos, Orbis, Van Gogh’s Ear, Narrative Magazine, and the collection BEST PARIS STORIES. She lives in Ivry, just outside Paris, with her bicycle.

Tita’s Glossary

C’est le mois de Marie This is the month of Mary. So begins a hymn that continues “it’s the most beautiful month, to the blessed Virgin, let’s give a new song.” May has long been linked with the Virgin. Special month-long ceremonies started in Rome in the 18th century and, through the Jesuits, spread all over Italy and France. The word May comes from Latin Maius [mensis], “month of Maia”. Maia was an Italic goddess of spring, warmth and fertility.

Tita by Marie Houzelle

In Houzelle's first novel, Tita is a seven-year-old girl growing up in the south of France in the 1950s whose life seems to be defined by obstacles: the many foods that disgust her, the school that fails to challenge her, and parents who struggle to understand her. Tita is precocious and clever, but in some ways painfully inept. She is thoughtful but frail obsessed with rules and rituals, and determined to understand the nuances. Through Houzelle's sharp, straightforward prose (which captures Tita's perspective), the story of how Tita grows takes center stage. She learns the alternatives to those things that have held her back or held her down. She challenges social strictures that she feels are meaningless. She battles her mother to get what she wants, and when sometimes that turns out to be the wrong decision, she acknowledges it. At the novel's end, Tita is still a little girl, but her brilliance, potential, and unusual way of looking at the world will have won readers over. --Publishers Weekly

Click here to order Tita, in paperback. Or you can directly download it here, to read the e-book.

An outtake from this morning's photograph-the-lilies session. One of our lilies is blurred but the other, "Smokey of the Valley", is clearly doing well and will get his stitches out on Thursday. Smokey's test results will be back in one week. To comment, click here.


"Father and Son." And on April 23rd, Jean-Marc and Max planted 5 rows, or 100 vines, of cinsault in front of the little cabanon. These grapes will make a small reserved wine to have with friends and family. To comment, click here.


You can see many more photos in my Instagram gallery or this Facebook page. Click the follow button, and never miss a picture!

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Anne Picard-Drew

In Australia in the 1950s and 60s, we had a similar procession, although for us May is in Autumn rather than Spring. Mary/Marie didn't care, flowers everywhere (for those who watered them in Summer).


Not sure if this link will be permitted but here's Mireille Mathieu singing "Le Temps du Muguet":

Joan L.

The muguets are still three or four weeks away here in Illinois because of the long winter and cold spring this year, but I do remember leaving home-made May baskets in the neighborhood when I was a little girl back in the 1950s.
Our school also had a May crowning of the Virgin Mary. At my granddaughters' school, they still do the May crowning. The children dress up for the event, and those who have just made their First Communion get to wear their pretty white dresses again.

Julie Farrar

Where do I get a Smokey-of-the-valley plant?


Lovely story! I just ordered the book.
Thank you Passante for the link to the Mireille Mathieu song. I have always loved her voice. (The link worked for me in France)


I love that photo of le muguet! Along with lilacs, lily of the valley is my favourite flower.

catharine ewart-touzot

lovely story one can actually see it in our mind

Trina, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

I, too, fondly remember these lovely little flowers from the Midwest. And I received an extra smile today as I giggled over Julie's comment. Be well, Smokey.


May Day coronation of Mary & procession very common at Catholic schools here in SOuthwest Louisiana....honors Mary, spring, & all women.

lynn at Southern fried French

Tita sounds interesting, I will mention it on my blog. Love the father/son photo.


As A child in Canada we celebrated "May Day" on the 24th of honor the Queens Birthday. There was maypole dancing and usually a Parade..with people wearing flowers in their hair (I don't think they do it anymore though)


Our dear Kristi,
Thank you for introducing us once again to this gifted writer!Her words evoked our own happy memories,made even more special by Passante's link to MM 's song(she has always been one of my favorites).
Wonderful pictures and answered prayers for Smokey.
Wow!What a terrific Tuesday you gifted us with!
Natalia. xo

Stacy - Sweet Life Farm

I enjoyed the excerpt from Marie's novel, introducing me to the month of Mary tradition.

My father recently had our home movies placed on DVD. It is a joy to see the rituals of family gatherings marking each holiday and birthday of my childhood. I see the importance of coming together to honor and celebrate these passages and traditions with our loved ones.

The return of happiness, such a beautiful thought to celebrate the first of May! It is also the anniversary of the day my love and I met, adding to our reason to celebrate. I have one lily of the valley plant the former owner planted. I shall make my dear a sweet bouquet to mark the day.

Merci, Kristi and friends!

Augusta Elmwood

Joan L. is spot on. In New Orleans, we would dress up in white (I think it was just for girls) and form up a procession at church, where the Mother Mary statue was placed outside. (The weather was always perfect!) We all wore wreaths (homemade or store-bought) and took them off and placed them at Her feet as we passed. While in the procession, we sang "On this day, o' beautiful Mother, on this day, we give thee our love...". My mother also used to make little paper "May Day Baskets" and fill them with flowers from the garden. We'd carry them to my school and hang them on the doorknobs of the classrooms of several of my (favorite) teachers, who were always pleased and surprised. I never realized that this was a variation of the French tradition, until I spent one May 1 in France and received several bouquets of the delicate little flower. Unfortunately, here in New Orleans, the Muguet blooms in March :-/

Anne Irons

I will light a candle for Smokey. The Holy Spirit will watch over him.

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