The French tradition of giving muguet des bois for May Day

Did you know that in France there is a long tradition of giving lily-of-the valley on the first of May, as a way of wishing good luck?

And did you further know that the tradition was begun in the Renaissance?

In 1560, King Charles IX was traveling with his mother, Catherine de’Medici, and they stopped in the town of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, where they were given lily-of-the-valley on their arrival on May 1. The King was so taken with the gift that the following year he gave the same floral gift to all of the ladies of the court, and he let it be known that he wanted this custom followed every year from than on.

And so it was until at least the late 19th-century. Interestingly enough, the customer was revived by couturiers in Paris in the early 20th century, who began giving lily-of-the-valley to their best customers.

The French clothing and perfume designer, Christian Dior, loved the small flower as his favorite “fortune” flower. He chose the flower as his personal symbol and designed a perfume using it as a strong note in his “Diorissimo,” launched in 1956.

“The nose behind the “Diorissimo” fragrance is Edmond Roudnitska. Top notes are Green Leaves and Bergamot; middle notes are Lily-of-the-Valley, Lilac, Jasmine, Lily, Ylang-Ylang, Amaryllis, Rosemary and Boronia; base notes are Civet and Sandalwood.

“Diorissimo is a romantic fragrance of the 50’s. At its heart, a gentle lily of the valley, blooms as Dior’s favorite “fortune” flower. Diorissimo is fresh and clear, just like a dewy, spring morning in the woods. Top notes include lily-of-the- valley and ylang-ylang, the heart is composed of amaryllis and boronia, leaving a jasmine trail.

“Christian Dior believed that lily-of-the valley is the symbol of hope, happiness and joy. French consider lily of the valley as the legendary flower. According to the legend a brave and fearless fighter, called Saint Leonard wanted, to spend his days among the flowers and trees and live a life dedicated to God. He asked permission to go live in the woods. A dragon called Temptetaion lived in those woods. They fought and blood was spilled. Leonard bravely fought the dragon until it was defeated. Poisonous weeds began to grow where the dragon spilled his blood, but beds of lilies of the valley started to grom wherever the ground was moistened with Saint Leonard’s.

“The French believe that lily-of-the valley is a holy flower and so did Christian Dior which inspired the creation of this wonderful fragrance. The creator from Grasse, France, Edmond Roudnitska, wanted to create a perfume that would be revolutionary and break the trend of sweet perfumes that were dominating the market. The goal was to simplify perfume’s formula and create a perfume that’s simple and luminous. He dreamed of perfume similar to that of muguet that enveloped his senses when he was resting in his garden.

“Dior and Roudnitska met in 1955 and made their dream come true in 1956- Diorissimo was created! The perfume was represented by an illustration by René Gruau. According to Christian Dior, Diorissimo is the perfume of his spirit, or, ‘the scented expression of his soul.’ “


The importance of the flowers, lily-of-the-valley, goes back much further of course. For Catholics, it symbolizes the Virgin Mary, for her tears were said to have transformed into these flowers at the foot of the cross.

The ancient Greeks believed the flower was created by Apollo specifically to carpet Mt. Parnassus, so that the tender feet of the nine Muses would not be hurt.

What a lot of history and significance for this lovely little flower, a harbinger of spring.

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