May Day -- le Premier mai, or la fête du muguet -- in France is a national holiday. That is because it is also Labour Day, but the old springtime traditions are what interest us here. The ancient custom known in Britain as "bringing in the May" has its expression in much of France with the giving of flowers on the day. The flower of choice is lily-of-the-valley, le muguet, and they are sold on every street corner on May Day. As everywhere in the northern hemisphere, May is a time when winter is truly past, and there are dozens of French proverbs relating to the weather and agricultural practices in May.
Mois de mai, queue d'hiver.
The month of May is the tail of winter.
Chaleur de mai verdit la haie.
Warmth in May makes hedges green.
Pluie de mai, rend septembre gai.
Rain in May makes September [the harvest] gay.
For genealogical use, we recommend that, when hunting for a marriage, you leave May to the last. There are a number of sayings about marrying in May which indicate that it was considered an extremely bad idea:
Méchante femme s'épouse en mai.
Shrewish women marry in May.
Mariages de mai ne fleurissent jamais.
May marriages never flower.
Mariage au mois des fleurs, mariage de pleurs.
A marriage in the month of flowers is a marriage of tears.
Mai pluvieux marie la fille du laboreux.
A girl who marries in a rainy May will have a hard life.
En mai, si tu te maries, par le soleil ou par la pluie, ami, crois-moi si tu veux, t'auras des enfants morveux.
If you marry in May, whether it be sunny or rainy, believe me, friend, you will have snotty-nosed children (brats).
and our favourite, for it makes no bones about it:
Noces de mai, noces mortelles.
May weddings are fatal.
We have not been able to find the reasoning for this May wedding taboo, but we delight in the warnings.
©2011 Anne Morddel