It should have become apparent by now dear readers, that I’m a person fascinated by paradox. And as luck would have it, I happen to live in a city that keeps on throwing them out for me like bread to a begging duck. Of all of the paradoxes Paris can offer, this Sunday 1st May sees the one of the largest of all when two festivals collide on the same day, fusing beauty and fury, friendship and dissatisfaction. Crikey, what a cocktail.
As is the case in many countries throughout the world, the first day of the month of May is officially known over here as la Fête de Travail or Labour Day. Originating in the US, the day became a commemoration of the Haymarket affair in Chicago in 1886, in which four demonstrators were killed when striking workers clashed with police, but encompasses a wider celebration of labourers, the working classes and international workers rights.
So the obvious way to pay respects to the universal working spirit would be, well, to work your behind off earnestly and conscientiously for at least one day of our lives. But to save us all pulling too many muscles, most countries designate May 1st as a public holiday meaning we all get to put our feet up instead. Sadly for the French this year it falls on a Sunday without the offer of a Monday off work in lieu.
Rather than letting the day pass in a relaxing haze, the French use this day to do what they do best – no, not indulging in a four-hour lunch, much more energetic than that, they like to protest. Whatever you’ve got a bee in your bonnet about it doesn’t matter; on this day you have the right to shout loud and proud ‘down with that sort of thing’ about whatever subject you choose. ‘Spot the protest’ can be a wonderful game as you watch the yelling crowds weave through the streets, trying to guess exactly what it is they’re complaining about. Many a time I’ve been completely stumped.
If organised objection isn’t your thing, then happily on the other side of the paradoxical May 1st coin, things are far quieter, prettier, and friendlier. The day also goes by the name la Fête du Muguet after the tiny white lily-of-the-valley that is traditionally given to close friends and family as a sign of love and affection. King Charles IX was the first to do so in 1561 and the tradition has lasted throughout the years, apparently most popular in the Île-de-France region around Paris.
Just one more paradox to leave you with, and undoubtedly the most confusing. May is widely considered the spring-iest of months and so as the calendar leaves April behind and runs forward to meet it, the day marks a celebration of the return of good weather. A lovely thought for sure, but this year this beautiful weather sentiment falls in the same week when Paris saw mid-spring snow. Brow-furrowing, head-shaking stuff. Let’s hope the new month gives us a bit of a climatic break or I might just be forced to rustle up a placard real quick and get out there to protest against those pesky weather Gods…