On the 1st of May, the tradition in France is to offer a sprig of lily of the valley to family members and friends as a symbol of good fortune.
This tradition started after Charles IX, visiting the Province of Dauphiné in spring 1560 with his mother Catherine de Médicis, was given a sprig.
The young king found the practice so endearing that, in spring 1561, he decided to offer a sprig of lily of the valley to all the ladies of his court saying “Let it be done so every year”.
The tradition spread very quickly in the kingdom but was then lost until 1st May 1895, when the singer Félix Mayol came to Paris and was offered a bouquet of lily of the valley at the train station by his friend Jenny Cook. At that time, gentlemen used to wear a camellia at the lapel of their jackets but as he didn’t find any, he decided to use a sprig of lily of the valley. The premiere of his concert was a success and he decided to use lily of the valley as his symbol.
People started to sell lily of the valley in the streets in Nantes around 1932 and in the whole France from 1936.
Nowadays,around 60 millions of sprigs are produced each year, 85% of them around Nantes. But there also are about 6 millions of wild sprigs picked. The latest is tolerated to be sold free of taxation by individuals or organizations.