Labour Day in France, La Fête du Travail, is also known as La Fête du Muguet — lily of the valley being the signature bloom for today.
On this much-loved public holiday, it has long been a ritual to give family and friends bouquets of this sweet bell-shaped flower, which is considered a lucky charm. (Don’t you love how the French take time to smell the flowers, both figuratively and literally?) The tradition goes back to the sixteenth-century court of King Charles IX, where ladies were gifted a spring of muguet every spring to wish them luck for the new season. The May 1st timing can also be traced back to pagan times, when the Celts celebrated the day as a seasonal turning point, away from winter and towards sunnier times ahead.
If you’re in Paris for May Day, be aware of any marches and demonstrations that might unfold, and stay away if they’re reported to turn unruly. Most shops and museums will be closed, so today is ideally one for celebrating life’s simple pleasures: long lunches on sunny café terraces or picnics with friends in Paris’s fragrant parks. And as you wander around, look out for muguet sellers — on this day, anyone is allowed to sell bouquets of lily of the valley on the streets.
If you want an olfactory souvenir from today that will last a little longer than the real thing, you can’t go past the classic French fragrance, Christian Dior Diorissimo. Lily of the valley was the designer’s favourite bloom — his florist grew it for him in a greenhouse so that he could pin a sprig to his lapel all year round — and this 1956 tour de force of a perfume is an exquisite ode to the flower, one of the trickiest to recreate in fragrance form because its essence can’t be naturally extracted.
Find Diorissimo at Printemps in the Carrousel du Louvre shopping complex beneath the Louvre, which will be open today. And because there’s nothing like fragrance to invoke memories, liberally spray on your new scent at once, so that every spritz in the future will take you right back to this lovely Parisian day.