Why Is Everything Closed On The 1st Of May In France? Another French Holiday!

French holiday; may day and labour day in france

If you come to France in May, May 1st to be exact, don’ be surprised to find EVERYTHING closed from banks and grocery stores, to schools and stores. Even the Louvre is closed. But Why?

Two Holidays For The Price Of One

I’ll never forget our first May in France. We were both surprised and confused by the fact that nothing was open on May First. Even more confusing was the fact that there were a bunch of people on random street corners selling flowers?  Bizarre.

Little did I know that it was a publich holiday and that the stores being closed and people selling flowers on the street corners were actually two different things being celebrated on the same day.

Labour day and May day.

1 – Labour Day / International Workers Day:  What To Expect and How To Celebrate It in France

Called La Fête du travail in French.

labour-day La Fete du travail in France is to celebrate the 40 hour work weekUnlike labour Day in Canada and the US, labour day in France is not celebrated on the first Monday of September. Instead it is celebrated on the first of May.

Labour Day is a public holiday and happens to be the only day of the year where employees must legally be given the day off (except for professions where work cannot be interrupted such as public transportation and hospitals).

Most countries celebrate labour day for the same reasons and in the same way but not always on the same day. For example Bolivia and India both celebrate International workers day on the First of May like France however the US and Canada celebrate on the 1st of September.

What To Expect

Don’t expect much fanfare on this day. It’s a day to relax and celebrate the 40 hour work week so why don’t you just go to the beach or have a BBQ or something. Besides, since almost everyone has the day off, you will be hard pressed to find any establishments open.

Want to learn more about International Workers Day in France?

2- May Day: La Fête du Muguet: What to expect and how to celebrate it in France

Called La Fête du Muguet in French

Like labour day, May day also falls on the first of May. It had long been a French tradition to give those you love a little bouquet of Lily-of-the-Valley flowers which are called <<Muguet >> in French. In giving these flowers you are also wishing that person happiness and good luck in celebration of the arrival of spring.

Background: King Charles IX of France once received a lily of the valley flower on May 1st, 1561 and liked it so much that he decided to present all the ladies of his court lily of the valley flowers every year on the 1st of My. Then around the 1900’s, men started to do the same and ever since it has remained a French tradition.

I discovered that although it is traditional to give Muguet flowers, you can also offer just about any flower you like. Like my friend Franck who came over and offered a single rose to me, his wife and several other women in our circle of friends. Merci Franck, c’est très gentil!

So if you are ever in France on May Day, go buy some Muguet flowers at a florist near you or at one of the countless flower stands that popup overnight on street corners, probably because this is the one day they can legally sell flowers without a license.

About the Author

Annie André Is a half Thai, half French Canadian/American freelance writer, digital marketer and author of THE LIVE IN FRANCE GUIDE: an expat travel and lifestyle blog featuring destination guides, inspiration, travel tips, personal advice and anecdotes on working, living and playing in France. ( Equal parts weird, wacky and wonderful).