Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

‘Un brin de muguet’

Today, May 1st, is not only International Labour Day, it’s also the day on which people in Belgium traditionally give each other a ‘brin de muguet’, a sprig of lily of the valley. The gesture is supposed to bring good luck. In some parts of the country, stalls are set up by the side of the road by people selling small bunches of lilies to passing drivers. Not where I live, so we need to buy them at the florist shop or the supermarket.

I went to the supermarket yesterday to get some lilies for my mother. They come by two sprigs, pre-packed with a small rose or freesia in a sheet of cellophane paper. And they are expensive: 2.50 euro for the freesia version and 2.99 euro for the rose version I bought one of each! Sheer robbery, but somehow justified by the fact that the lilies are grown in greenhouses that need to be heated using precious fuel.

Two sprigs of lily of the valley and a freesia.

At first I wanted to keep the flowers till this morning, but by late afternoon yesterday, I noticed that the sprigs were already dropping their heads, despite the fact that they are sold in a test tube-like container filled with water. I therefore went over to my mother’s and presented her with her annual ‘brin the muguet’. A wise decision it turned out to be, because this morning my specimen had partially turned brown and the sprigs had shrunk to half their initial size. A waste of money? Maybe, but nevertheless a nice tradition supporting the idea: ‘Le plaisir d’offrir!’

Do you give your loved-ones a lily of the valley on May 1st?


Carolyn said...

It's not the custom here to give lily of the valley, but you have reminded me to go out and see if our pink ones are blooming. If so, I'll cut some for the table. Happy May day, Martine!

Louise said...

Martine, what a lovely post. It reminded me of my mother, who married with Lilly of the Valley in her bouquet so she told 1952. I hadn't thought about it for years. When I lived in chilly Canberra, Australia's capital city, in the 70s, we sometimes were able to pick this beautiful, and fragile gift of nature. How lovely you could present it to your mother. Louise

GaynorB said...

No, we don't do this in the UK, but if I was to be able to spend more time in France this is a tradition I would like to adopt.

Autolycus said...

I knew they did this in France: is it throughout Belgium, or does it die out the further into Flanders one gets - or do they do it in the Netherlands as well? And what about the German-speakers?

Jean said...

What a lovely, charming custom. We don't do anything like this in the UK but last year we were in Le Grand-Pressigny on the 1st May and our neighbour Mme André left a small bunch of her muguets on our doorstep. We didn't realise its special significance at the time because she is always leaving flowers or vegetables as little gifts for us. She's such a sweet person to have as a neighbour.

Niall & Antoinette said...

We had them in our garden in Maastricht and I used to cut a small bunch for indoors on the 1st of May.

It wasn't a terribly strong tradition in Limburg, but you did see it. Don't remember seeing it in the north.

ladybird said...

Carolyn, I've never seen a pink lily of the valley. In fact, I didn't even know they came in pink. But they must be exquisite!

Louise, These days florists discourage brides to have a lily of the valley bouquet, because the strong perfume of the flower may cause the nervous bride to faint in front of the altar :)

Gaynor, One should always adopt the traditions of the country one is living in. Although I'm not sure I would like eating sheep's eyes if living in North Africa ;)

Autolycus, It's a general tradition in Belgium, though only kept alive by people who really like flowers and the symbolical meaning attached to them. The others think it's just another commercial gimmick. I don't know about Holland (see Anoinette's comment) and certainly not about Germany. Scandinavian countries certainly don't have this tradition.

Jean, You are lucky to have such charming neighbours. A well deserved reward for the efforts you're making to blend in.

N&A, Funny how one never wonders about the origin of a tradition and why it lives in one country and not in another. I really need to do some research on this ... when I'm retired :)