Lily of the Valley, May Day, and more!

OK, here's the thing... I had no idea that May Day (the 1st of May) (today) was related to the Lily of the Valley. See also: I didn't even know that "Muguet" is the same thing as Lily of the Valley. It's the French, you see. I didn't take it. I took Spanish. See also: I do not know any Spanish which became clear when I insisted on having icecream* added to my sodas on my honeymoon in Oaxaca.
*I meant "ice". Whoops.

So, as a new perfumista, I felt it my duty to figure out this whole Lily of the Valley-Muguet thing.

My quest for information sent me down various roads, most of which were boring if you, like me, snooze when historical info starts getting tossed about. The thing that kept me awake were the cool pictures, so I'll share some of those, too. It all starts with May Day...

What is May Day?
No, not "mayday" as in "the plane is going down!". May Day - the first of May. It's celebrated in many countries around the world and has been for many centuries. I learned the following:

  1. May Day is also known as Labour Day or International Workers Day in many places. In the US, we do that holiday at the beginning of September, so I'm confused at the very start. The tradition started in Australia to celebrate the fight for an 8-hour workday (huzzah!).
  2. For some, the day is a commemoration of the Haymarket Affair. Historical stuff... blah, blah, blah. Upshot: People hanged after being tried for shenanigans during a protest as part of a labor strike. Nasty stuff. Read more here.
  3. NeoPagans celebrate Beltane on May 1st. This holiday has ancient roots and was therefore squashed by the Christians who squashed every traditional holiday or festival by pretending it had something to do with Christianity. Beltane is originally Celtic (woot! shoutout to the ancestors!) and is a "cross-quarter day, celebrating the halfway mark between the Spring equinox and Summer Solstice. It's also a Wiccan Sabbat; Blessed Be. Cool info on Beltane can be found here as a starting point.
  4. Romans used to celebrate the Spring with the festival of Flora (or Floralia), the goddess of flowers. Sounds like a good idea to me!
  5. Bonfires are lit (and sometimes danced around - maybe naked) to celebrate May Day. This goes back to the Celts and also to Germans, who celebrated Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht). May 1st is when Saint Walpurga was cannonized. And so we dance...  ???? I don't get it either, but hey, any reason to dance around a bonfire seems like a good one. Clothes on for me, folks - this is a family show.
  6. Everybody and their mother seemed to celebrate May Day not just with large fires, but also with ribbons wrapped around a tall pole or a tree. Since this May Pole custom seems to show up all over the place, I am not clear who can claim that they started the whole deal. Regardless, I wish they still did May Poles here in the States. I never got a chance to do it, but my Mom did when she was a kid.
    Are we having fun yet?

  7. In Germany, you might have at some point received a tree wrapped in ribbons or streamers. It would show up in your yard overnight as some kind of tree flirtation tool. Pray the streamers weren't white, which meant someone didn't like you. Oh, snap!
    If this... er, whatever it is, shows up on my doorstep I'm calling the cops.
  8. Another little tradition I'd like to see rejuvenated would be May Baskets: pretty little baskets filled with flowers and treats. They were left on a doorstep or tied to a fence or doorknob, secretly. If you caught whomever dropped off your basket you were due a kiss!

  9. My mother speaks of her desire to be Queen of the May. The May Queen got to walk at the front of the May Day parade (parades! bring those back, too!). Let's please let Mom have her dream and not tell her that British folk used to say the Queen of the May would be put to death after the festivities wrapped up. That would just bum her out.
    Not my mother.
  10. Christianity appropriated most of these non-Christian traditions and made it all about Mary, she of the virgin birth, Mother of Jesus and so forth. That's fine and all, she deserves her day, too, but does that mean we can't have parades and baskets full of perfume flowers?
    Mary is sad because she didn't get a parade.
    Madonna in Sorrow (Sassoferrato) via

And that's about all I've got in me on May Day. Let's take a break and look at a pretty wedding bouquet you may have seen the other day. It belongs to the Duchess of Cambridge (we used to call her Kate Middleton).
The Duchess' bouquet had only flowers grown in England and Lily of the Valley were prominent. Very pretty. It's the "shield" shape, which I read somewhere and didn't know was A Thing.

I suppose it's important to figure out what Lily of the Valley has to do with anything May Day related. Let's Keep Calm and Carry On...

Lily of the Valley. Muguet. Our Lady's Tears. May lily. May bells. Ladder to Heaven.

This beautiful woodland flower, whichever name you choose to use, has broad, beautiful green leaves, a slender stalk, and drips tiny white bells. I love the sweet delicate counterpoint of the blooms which contrast so nicely with the strong and sturdy greenery!

As pretty as the Lily of the Valley may be, it's 100% poisonous, from root to leaf to flower. Even the red berries that show up are toxic. Note to self: don't snack on Kate Middleton's bouquet.

Our Lady's Tears? Strange name for this plant. It apparently came from Mary's tears as she wept over her son (The Son) as he hung on the cross. Her tears dropped and bloomed as this flower. Or... maybe they were from Eve's tears as she wept her way out of the Garden of Eden. Religious myths differ, as they often do.

The Lily of the Valley's scientific name, majalis or maialis, means "of May".1   Maybe this explain why the French sell muguet on the first of May? 

Here's a fun little snippet on a blog about the French and the selling of the muguet. Also on this blog you can find out how to pronounce muguet, which I must admit I was butchering in my mind (but thankfully hadn't said out loud).

Which brings us to a fairly reasonable tie-in between May Day and Lilly of the Valley. Whew!

Selling LotV in France on May Day. It's a French thing. You wouldn't understand.
What does it smell like?
Here's the ellaborate answer, as far as I could dig up: sweet and floral. Illuminating. I personally haven't smelled "wild" Lily of the Valley. Perfumeshrine describes the scent as "a green floral with rosy-lemony nuance." Further, it instructs, the Lily of the Valley is used in perfumery to "open up" a fragrance.2

If you can share more details on the sweet floral scent of muguet, please chime in comment-wise!


On the hunt for Lily of the Valley scent...
I have tried only a few LotV perfumes ("LotV" is perfumista shorthand for the flower being discussed - see how "with it" I am?).

Today, I wore Floris' Lily of the Valley. I pretty much had this thought process: Nice. Sweet. Floral. It smelled familiar. I liked the nice lemon-and-green opening of this perfume, and then the whole thing faded to a soft and soapy floral aura. Light. Not something I'd wear, but certainly pretty.

I also recently tried Andy Tauer's Carillon Pour Un Ange, which is his LotV scent. I hate to admit this, but I really didn't care for it. It's the only "fail" I've experienced in the line so far, which tempts me to try it again, soon. Maybe tomorrow. To my nose, Carillon Pour Un Ange was no sweet waltz, it was a clunky Elaine dance. Well, they can't all be winners.
PS: It's not you, it's me. See a zillion raving reviews of Carillon Pour Un Ange here.

A few of my favorite perfumes, while not LotV soliflores, do have the note listed. For example: Chamade (Guerlain), No. 19 (Chanel), Miss Dior (Dior). Who knew?

Lucky for me, there are 292 scents listed in the Basenotes directory that have Lily of the Valley listed as a note. Surely they aren't all soliflores, but maybe comparing a few will give me more of a sense of familiarity with the note.

Suggested Lily of the Valley-centric scents:
  • Diorissimo (Dior), the primo LotV perfume, created by Edmound Roudnitska in 1956.
    Notes: greens, bergamot, lily of the valley, ylang ylang, rosewood, amaryllis, boronia, jasmine, and sandalwood, and civet.
  • Muget des Bois (Coty)
  • Muguet (Guerlain), which is released once a year only on May 1st. This years bottle apparently cost $500. You can read about it on PurfumeShrine.
  • le Muguet (Annick Goutal)
  • Jessica McClintock
  • Lily of the Valley (Penhaligon's)
There's also a lovely list of LotV perfumes on PerfumeShrine.

So, do you May Day? Partake in the naked bonfire dancing? Buy muguet on May 1st? Have a favorite Lily of the Valley scent? 
I confess, most of my interest in the day stems from the birth of my second daughter, Lulu, on May 1st two years ago! She is my Queen of the May!

See also: May Day