Tomorrow, France kicks off the lively, if out of sync, month of May with Fête du travail (Labor Day). Passionate demonstrations and parades, often organized by trade groups or agenda-driven folks, may thwart your movements with the closure of streets and interrupted transportation. Tourists might do well to plan ahead, as they discover the closure of many businesses, restaurants, markets and offices. One cultural pleasantry, though, is the sale of little nosegays of lilies of the valley (muguets), a tradition that finds adults and children alike offering the flowers along the streets. The gift of muguets bestows your wish for happiness and good fortune with the arrival of spring.
Labor Day merely marks the beginning of a month full of holidays, celebrations and off-kilter rhythm for Paris and the rest of the country. Four official holidays in May tend to rock the normal ebb and flow of life, and residents often take to the parks and further afield to second homes for extended weekends. The next holiday is May 8 – an important day of remembrance – Fête de la Victoire (Victory in Europe Day). Marking the date of Germany’s unconditional surrender and the end of World War II in Europe, this day is equally solemn and celebratory … so, so many losses and such joy at rediscovered freedom.
The last two public holidays are associated with religious celebrations – May 17, Ascension Day – “le jeudi de l’Ascension” – and May 28, Pentecost. Despite the separation of church and state enacted in 1905, these traditional Catholic holidays remain. Marking the Ascension of Christ 40 days following His death, the day combines religious celebrations and a traditional feast of spring foods from young lamb, asparagus and avocados to mushroom soups, citrus and apricots. Sounds refreshing and delightful, doesn’t it? And speaking of food, one French saying for l ’Ascension is: “On mange groseilles et mouton.” (On the Ascension, we eat gooseberry and mutton.)
Finally, Whit Sunday and Whit Monday (Lundi de Pentecôte) round out the holiday festivities and formal respites (Monday also is a national holiday). All told, the May holidays foretell the special weather to come, the seasons of growth and harvest, the summer holidays and all good things that follow the winter.
Tourists might expect museum and bank closures and changes to the ‘normal schedule’, but you also may celebrate the delightful weather and sense of wellbeing the French are happy to welcome. Walk by the river, gather your muguets, enjoy the evenings and find your little place in one of the parks – tout merveilleux!
And by the way, one last day to celebrate is Mother’s Day, the last Sunday in May. That’s the time mothers are revered, pampered, gifted and adored with poems and flowers. Parfait!