May 1st is a holiday widely celebrated in France and all across Europe. Oddly enough, although it is not celebrated in the States, it is a tribute to the workers of Chicago who protested in 1886 asking for an eight-hour work day.
Perhaps in order to avoid bringing more attention to the history of May 1st, the US government decided that Labor Day would be celebrated in September.
Meanwhile, it was celebrated in France and became a public holiday in 1947. As Americans celebrate their Labor Day with a family reunion around a barbecue, in France May 1st is more like a day to relax and sit at a table outside a café to enjoy the lovely weather at that time of the year. In Paris, May 1st is the official “contestation day,” and the workers do their annual march to the Bastille in a rather friendly atmosphere–we all know how much French people love doing that!
The other thing that you will notice is the little white flowers called Lily of the Valley or muguet – sometimes we just called them “little bells of the woods” or clochettes des bois for their resemblance to little white bells. These flowers are everywhere, and on May 1st the streets are covered with professionals and particulars selling the little white flowers.
Originally they were a symbol of Spring in the Paris area, as it is one of the first flowers to appear after winter. Now it is a symbol of Labor Day. It is traditional to give a little bouquet to friends and to those you love to bring them good luck.