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The lily of the valley

23 April 2021
“The time of the lily of the valley has returned”, sang Danielle Darrieux. But how long has this May Day tradition existed in France? In the days of ancient Rome, at the start of May, the Floralia were celebrated in honour of Flora, the goddess of flowers.

The Greeks, meanwhile, hung up floral wreaths at the entrances to their homes. 

They clearly thought it appropriate to celebrate the arrival of the flowering season at the beginning of May. But how did the French lily of the valley tradition come about? Some think the lily of the valley could be used to chase the winter away.
But, historically speaking, this is a tradition that dates back to the Renaissance. Once, when travelling in the Drôme area, King Charles IX was given a sprig of lily of the valley. Charmed, he went on to give it to all the ladies of the court each spring. 

At the time of the French Revolution, it was on the 7th day of Floréal (in Fabré Eglantine’s Republican Calendar), or the 26th of April as we know it now, that lily of the valley was given. 

Then, in 1895, the singer Félix Mayol was greeted in Paris by his friend Jenny Cook, who offered him a sprig of lily of the valley, although celebrities at that time would have been more likely to wear a camelia. It appears that he wore it on the inside of his jacket during his first performance on stage. His concert was such a success that he held onto this lucky lily of the valley, and even adopted it as his emblem. 

In his honour the Toulon rugby club added the lily of the valley to its crest in 1921. 

Then, during the Belle Epoque, Parisian fashion houses started giving away a sprig of lily of the valley to their seamstresses and customers. Over time, the gesture became a custom to such a point that Christian Dior made it his lucky flower. 

So is there no link between the lily of the valley and Labour Day?
Originally, no!
But from the 1940s onwards, when the 1st of May became the official day for Labour Day celebrations, the flower associated with it was the lily of the valley. 

Today, this holiday is one of the biggest days of the year for chocolatiers and pâtissiers, a chance to astound us with their joy-giving creativity. 

Margaux Caron 

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