May 1st is usually a public holiday in France, although this year it unfortunately falls on a Saturday, which means no extra day off work.
It is generally marked with widespread protests and demos – which are set to go ahead this year albeit in a scaled-down form – and with flowers.
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It is traditional on May 1st to give muguet – lily-of-the-valley – flowers to friends and family to bring good luck to the year ahead.
It’s a tradition that goes right back to the 1500s, and in a sign of how seriously France takes it, the agriculture ministry has put out a press release detailing the precise arrangements for sales this year, which includes a special exception to the health rules.
The ministry states: “May 1st is approaching and, as every year, lily-of-the-valley will be in the spotlight.
“In the current health context, a special arrangement is planned to allow both the celebration of this popular tradition and the respect of the health protocols in force.”
Non-essential shops are currently closed in France, but among those allowed to open are florists and garden centres, who will sell muguets as normal, while some supermarkets also stock them.
You normally also see temporary pop-up stalls selling the flowers, often in aid of charity, and the ministry has decided to give these the go-ahead to open in the days leading up to May 1st.
Sales of lily-of-the-valley will be allowed “in sales outlets held on the public highway by associations and by individuals, in compliance with the limit of 6 people for gatherings set out in the decree of October 29th 2020”.
The 7pm curfew and 10km limit on trips will still be in place on May 1st and there are no plans to lift those measures for the day.
The tradition of giving the muguets, sometimes known as muguets de mai, is said to date back to 1561, when King Charles IX was given the flower as a lucky charm, and liked it so much that he decided to offer them to the ladies of the court every year on May 1st.
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