How France will mark May 1st under lockdown

Today marks May 1st and although the concept of a day off work is now purely theoretical to many people, France will be doing its best to put on a traditional May Day while under lockdown.

How France will mark May 1st under lockdown
May 1st will look a little different this year. Photo: AFP

May 1st is usually a big holiday in the nation's calendar, but this year things will be a little different.

Public holiday

May 1st falls on a Friday this year so most people get a day off work, although that is a largely theoretical concept to the millions of people unable to work due to the lockdown.

French bank holidays are taken on whichever day they happen to fall on the calendar meaning that in 2021 and 2022 May 1st falls on a weekend and therefore doesn't mean an extra day off.

To really rub salt into that wound the same also applies to May 8th, which is usually a public holiday in France to mark the end of World War II in Europe. 

Social distancing rules mean that this type of protest will not be possible this year. Photo: AFP


Also known as the Fête du Travail, or Labour Day, May 1st is usually a day of widespread union-organised demonstrations.

Although protests and demos seem quintessentially French, this tradition is actually borrowed from the USA and a huge strike in Chicago in 1886.

On May 1st, 35,000 workers walked out of their jobs, joined by tens of thousands more in the next couple days, leading a national movement for an eight-hour work day. 

Three years later, France decided to establish an “International Workers' Day” with the same goal, but it didn't officially become a paid day off until 1941 under the Vichy regime.

This year street demos are obviously out, but unions are still keen to mark the day and have instead invited people to demonstrate on their balconies.


The theme of the protests is the 'forgotten workers' – the low-paid but essential workers who have kept the country running during the weeks of lockdown.

The lily-of-the-valley is the traditional May Day flower. Photo: AFP


But it's not all protests, some people mark the day with flowers.

On the first of May in 1561, France's King Charles IX was given a muguet flower, or lily-of-the valley in English, as a lucky charm and liked it so much that he decided to offer them each year to the ladies of the court.

They're usually sold in florists on by street sellers, neither of which will be possible this year.

However the country's agriculture minister Didier Guillaume has moved to reassure people that they will still be able to get a May Day muguet – this year they will be available in supermarkets and other 'essential' stores that are allowed to remain open during the lockdown.

He has also called on people to buy them to show solidarity with under-pressure French growers.


Fête de la Terre

In medieval France, this time was a celebration of the season rather than of the workers. 

A feast would be hosted for three days in celebration, during which time musical parades would take place with people dancing and riding mules adorned with ribbons through the villages, to an enormous banquet.

This tradition is best preserved in rural areas of France, such as the mountainous department of Isère, or the south west town of Cahors, where the weekend surrounding the 1st is usually one of celebration, using it as an excuse to come together and enjoy the good weather, with parades and markets of regional products.

Sadly this won't be possible this year, and the far right political party Rassemblement National's usual May 1st 'patriotic banquet' won't be happening either.

The tree of May

This is one of the more quirky May Day traditions and involves young men in some parts of France cutting down a tree during the night between the 30th of April and May 1st and then replanting it by the door of the woman they hoped to marry.

Other versions of this tradition saw the May tree placed in front of a church or at the home of a newlywed couple.

It was pretty much a historical relic anyway and we're not sure which box you would tick on the lockdown permission form to cover tree-related courting rituals.



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Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

With a sharp rise in reported cases in recent weeks, France appears to be in the middle of a new wave of Covid infections - so what measures are the government taking to control it?

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

Recorded case numbers in France are now over 50,000 a week, and have been since the beginning of June – this is a long way short of the 350,000 weekly cases recorded in January but still the highest since May and representing a steady an increase of 57 percent on the previous week.

Hospital admissions are also on the rise – standing at 707 admissions on Friday, June 24th compared to 400 daily admissions just two weeks earlier.

So what is the French government doing about it?

Since March, almost all Covid-related restrictions have been lifted in France – the health pass is no longer required for everyday activities such as visiting a bar or going to the gym and face masks are now merely advised in all indoor locations. Only hospitals and other health establishments such as nursing homes still have mandatory rules on face masks and health passes.

For international travel, fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries – including the UK, US and the whole of the EU – need only to show proof of vaccination, while unvaccinated travellers need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test – full details HERE.

Health pass

A proposed bill from the health ministry that was leaked to French media talks about re-imposing some form of pass sanitaire (health pass) to get numbers under control.

Some caveats to add here is that the document is only a proposal at this stage and the government has explicitly rules out – for the moment – reintroducing the vaccine pass. The health pass can be used to show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, so it is less restrictive for the unvaccinated.

The document suggests re-introducing a health pass for travel – both to and from France – not for everyday activities like going to a café.

Testing and contact tracing

The bill also proposes extending the software involved in contact tracing and the Covid testing programme until March 2023, although this is described as a ‘precaution’.

Testing remains available on a walk-in basis at most French pharmacies and by appointment at health centres and medical labs. Tests are free for fully-vaccinated residents of France who have a carte vitale. Those are only visiting France, who are not registered in the French health system or who are not vaccinated have to pay – prices are capped at €22 for an antigen test and €54 for a PCR test.

READ ALSO How tourists in France can get a Covid test


The government’s Covid vaccine adviser Alain Fischer told France Info that he was in favour of making face masks compulsory on public transport again and said it is ‘being discussed” at government level.

At present masks are not required, but are recommended, especially on busy services where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

Epidemiologist Pascal Crépey said: “In crowded trains, the risk of being in the presence of infected people is high. It would be a good idea for the population to wear the mask, to protect especially the most fragile and avoid massive infection rates.”

Local measures

French local authorities also have the power to impose certain types of restrictions if their area has a particularly high rate of infections.

At present, none have done so, but Nice mayor Christian Estrosi has spoken in favour of possibly bringing back the vaccine pass over the summer.

Second booster shots

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine is now available to all over 60s and anyone who has a long-term medical condition or who is otherwise at risk from Covid.

It is recommended that the government increase public messaging advising those in high risk groups to get the second booster shot. The medical regular HAS has advised combining second booster shots with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign in September and October.

France is not, at present, considering widening the campaign to the entire popular, but the EU’s vaccine commissioner Thierry Breton says that if necessary, there would be enough doses to cover the whole population.