The First of May is an important day throughout Europe. In France, 'le premier Mai' is characterized by the centuries old custom of sidewalk vendors selling charming little bouquets of lilies-of-the-valley.
The earliest May Day festivities were pre-Christian, and related to Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. Countless legends in many cultures, religions, and historic periods are based on the fanciful origins of lilies of the-valley, convallaria majalis. In Christian legends, it has been called, ‘Our Lady’s Tears.’ In Christian iconography, it is representative of modesty or humility. In the language of flowers it means good luck, and the return of happiness.
The lily-of-the-valley is an old fashioned flower seldomly encountered nowadays. In Victorian and Edwardian times one could buy it at florists. In France, it is still commonly sold at florists in May, but in North America, selections at flower shops are usually limited to tulips, roses, mums and the now ubiquitous potted phalaenopsis orchid.
At one time, 'muguet' was a common motif in the decorative arts, and was visible on textiles, metalwork, silverware,porcelain, postcards and jewellery. But for our brash, in-your-face, Lady Gaga times, it is just too shy, polite, retiring, and elegant.
If a personality could be matched to the flower, it might be Princess Grace of Monaco, who had a wedding bouquet of 'muguet de bonheur.' Throughout her lifetime, she was photographed many times holding a bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley, a flower she also writes of in her 1980 work, 'My Book of Flowers.' The lovely muguet is a flower that evokes English and European, rather than new world, legends and charm. wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier, Monaco in April, 1956, dress designed byMGM wardrobe designer Helen Rose early 1970s charity fundraising event; Princess Grace with a bouquet of muguet
In early May, don’t overlook this delightful little plant. The season is very brief, and the flowers are discreet enough to be passed by. detail from a delightful screen printed vintage linen tablecloth by the venerable Avenue Montaigne house of D. Porthault
detail of floral motif of above bedlinens by Christian Dior
circa 1910 German made chromolithography postcards
lily-of-the-valley motif on a Lalique plate
images and text copyright of Square With Flair; photos of Grace Kelly from 'Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco' by Tevor Hall, Crown Publishing, 1983