Today, here in France, it is la fête de la victoire, or le jour de la libération. It is a holiday to celebrate the end of World War ll and the freedom of the French people. It was on this day that Charles de Gaulle announced the end of the war in France on May 8, 1945. Here in our town, Canet-en-Roussillon, there was a commemoration at the War Memorial in the local cemetery this morning, a parade of Second World War military vehicles through the streets, the reconstruction of a United States Army Camp on the beach, and later tonight an open air dance will be held in the main square at Canet Plage. Most villages, towns and cities have some kind of celebration, and even seventy two years on there are those who remember the liberation of this country from Nazi occupation and oppression.
Yesterday the French elected a new president. At thirty nine years old, Emmanuel Macron will be the youngest person to lead this country since Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799. Obviously as a foreigner here in France, I did not have a vote, but like many I was mightily relieved that a person of the far right would not be leading this country. France has many problems, and the path ahead will not be easy for the new president. Just as May 8, 1945 was a day of celebration and a fresh start after six years of war, so it is to be hoped that May 8, 2017 will be a fresh start and a time for the French people to come together to seek solutions to the many issues that face us all in today’s world, and heal the real divisions in French society.
There are many different titles given to the first day of May. May Day is the obvious one, and for well over a century the day has had connections with workers’ rights, indeed it is sometimes known as International Labour Day, or here in France where I am at the moment, La Fête du Travail. Even the Catholic Church has got in on the act, and as a response to the May Day celebrations for workers sponsored by Communists, Pope Pius Xll instituted the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker in 1955. The day has long been a public holiday in many countries, but here in France there is another lovely tradition going back to 1561, when on May 1st King Charles lX was presented with a bunch of lily-of-the-valley flowers as a token of luck and prosperity for the coming year. It is said that he then began the tradition of giving little posies of the highly perfumed lily-of-the-valley (Muguet in French) to the ladies of the court on that day each year as tokens of good luck.
All over France in the days leading up to May Day, you can buy these little sprigs of flowers or even potted plants to give to your sweetheart, other family members, or even neighbours, as tokens of luck and prosperity. It has become big business here. We arrived here on Saturday and our friends who met us at the airport presented us with a little pot of these flowers when they deposited us outside our house. The wrapper usually states Je porte bonheur – I bring good luck or happiness.
Big business or not, it is still a charming French custom as the beautiful scent of le muguet fills the air. I cannot give you that scent, but I do send you all “a virtual sprig of lily-of-the-valley” which I hope brings you good luck and happiness too. Bonne Fête du Muguet!