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On street corners, at subway entrances, in front of bakeries and in the middle of squares, people enjoying a day off from work or school took part in a Labor Day tradition that did not involve protesting: exchanging “muguet” or lily of the valley flowers.
Dora Fournier and Pauline Migueres set up shop outside my local bakery and benefited from the foot traffic. They offered sweet-smelling muguet bouquets to passersby in exchange for a donation. Migueres, 22, and Fournier, 20, said this was one of many fundraisers that would help them finance volunteer abroad trips this summer — Fournier’s to Peru, Migueres’ to Mali — so they can gain field experience. Both women are studying post-natal care in the developing world and its effect on a child's physical and emotional development. The average donation was 2 or 3 euros for one strand, but one man offered a 20 euro bill for a small handful.
Migueres said the flowers blossom around this exact time each year and colleagues from an association she works with picked them from the woods surrounding Paris. The students then arranged the small bouquets, paired up and spread out all over the city. May 1 is the only day of the year when vendors can sell the flowers in the street without a permit.
People observe the May Day muguet tradition in varying ways, the students said. Husbands can buy the flowers to offer their wives or friends who have been invited for lunch at someone's house might offer a small bouquet to their host. A person may also opt to buy a bouquet for himself, “to decorate, simply because it smells nice,” Migueres said.