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Lily of the valley, history of the symbol and its link to Labor Day

As you probably already know, Labor Day and the symbol of the Lilly of the Valley have always been intrinsically linked. One might wonder what the reason is. How did this toxic flower, originally from Japan, become a symbol of peace, happiness and luck? And how did her dazzling white dress end up at the center of a civil issue?

 

Although there are a multitude of tales and legends on the subject and its origins, we must divide the narrative in two to learn more about this mysterious connection.


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It is in the Middle Ages that our adventure begins. Indeed, a spring flower, lily of the valley has always symbolized the end of the harsh winter and the return of milder days. It was then already customary to offer one or more sprigs of lily of the valley for the new season. Plus, spring meant marriage. Associated with purity and chastity, lily of the valley was generally offered to young spouses as a token of longevity.


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The flower was therefore very appreciated and culturally widespread. However, it was Charles IX, King of France, who elevated the tradition to the status of a national celebration. The story goes that on May 1, 1561, the future king, then aged 10, received a sprig of lily of the valley from the knight Louis de Girard de Maisonforte during a visit to the village of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux accompanied by his mother Catherine de Medici. Charmed by the attention, he said according to history - Let it be done like this every year. The custom was thus launched and it is said that he offered a sprig of lily of the valley to the ladies of his court every year since then.



 

As the tradition spreads across Europe, we need to cross the Atlantic to discover the second half of the story.


We are now in Chicago, three centuries later, on May 1, 1886. The American proletarian movement is in the middle of the fight for an 8-hour workday. Determined to make Chicago the center of this national revolution, 35,000 unionists gathered and decided to leave their workplace to protest and express their discontent with difficult conditions and long hours.


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Unfortunately, the reform was not received with open arms. The demonstrations lasted several days and the deaths, both civilians and police, numbered in the dozens. Outraged by the violence of the interactions and demanding revenge, the unionists threw a bomb with the police as the target.



This action was strongly reprimanded, however the author of the initiative was never found. Instead, a group of protesters were arrested and executed without any hard evidence or specific connection to the incident. This revolt is still shocking today. Additionally, the court's incompetence, lack of jurisdiction, and final decision are still considered some of the country's biggest miscarriages of justice.


Inspired by this event, a large number of socialists and unions around the world began to celebrate May 1 as International Workers' Day or May Day. The Soviet Union and other communist countries were some of the first to officially adopt the day.


Although having inspired several revolutionaries, the American reform will not succeed until the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 for an 8-hour working day to be officially established.


 

You will therefore ask yourself - What is the link between these proletarian demands and this flower of white purity?


The answer can be found in France on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution during the International Socialist Congress of July 1889. That day, the assembly voted for a resolution proposing an international date to fight for 8 hours of work a day. May 1st then seemed obvious - the date being both a tribute to the Chicago martyrs and a symbol of proletarian demand.


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The following year, the protests started and the demonstrators were easily recognizable because of the triangular symbol, with a red wild rose in its center, they were wearing - earning them the nickname "flowery buttonholes". The triangle here represented the harmonious division of the day into “three eights”: work, sleep, leisure.


The protests lasted until the beginning of the 20th century and under the German occupation. In fact, in order to rally the workers to the Vichy government, Marshal Pétain declared May 1st as a holiday of labor and social harmony.


However, because of the red triangle's socialist or even communist connotations, it was necessary to find a new symbol for this international celebration. Lily of the valley was then chosen, due to its flowering

at this time of year.


 

Since then, lily of the valley has been irremediably linked to International Labor Day - although it still symbolizes peace, happiness and luck.


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Labor Day this Wednesday, May 1st, Roseline d'Oreye has launched a silk bandana pocket square in order to extend this long tradition of fairness, justice, but also happiness and love. Almost magical with its bells, the plant fascinates with the strength of its delicacy - a value transmitted in Roseline d'Oreye products.


Carrés de soie Roseline d'Oreye

Check them out at our store - Galerie du Roi 10, 1000 Brussels, or on our online store,

The Roseline d'Oreye team wishes you an excellent Labor Day, happiness and a well-deserved rest!

Rédaction : Léo Barbette



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