Traveling to France in May can be a bit complicated. We have many holidays, and many extended weekends since the French “font le pont” – they will take an extra day off when there is only one day separating a holiday from a weekend, and therefore have a “long weekend”. And there are many holidays in May in France.
May Holidays in France
There are many holidays in May in France:
- May 1st is Labor Day (la fête du travail).
- May 8th is the end of WW2 in Europe (VE day).
- In May, we have a Christian holiday, l’Ascension (this year the 30th), when the Christians celebrate the day Jesus Christ reborn ascended to the Heavens.
- Then, we have another Christian holiday” la Pentecôte” is celebrated 40 days after “Pâques” (Easter), which is usually sometimes in May (this year it’s in June, June 9th).
It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ.
What Does “Faire le Pont” Mean in French?
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Now all these wouldn’t be too bad if the French didn’t have this habit of “faire le pont” – literally “to do the bridge.”
“Faire le pont” means that when a holiday is on a Tuesday or a Thursday, the day which links over to the the weekend is also off for the employees (who still get paid).
So for example, Leyla’s school will be closed on Thursday the 30th for l’Ascension, and Friday the 31st because… well because they can. The teachers will enjoy a four day weekend.
This affects schools (read more about the French school system here) and other institutions including banks, museums, most offices, small boutiques. Most supermarkets are open but only for a few hours. You can imagine that the month of May is not a good one for the French economy…
“how much does it cost? (to the economy)”
“A bag of coal, a pack of beer, lamb sausages, skewers…”
Image credits: Ouest France
Watch Out For Extended May Weekends in France
And of course “les ponts du mois de mai” have a tremendous influence on the price of train tickets and the traffic on the roads. You can count on major traffic jams!
This year, it’s not too bad: only one long weekend. But sometimes most weekends in May end up being long ones…
Something to be aware of when planning your trip to France!
Now let’s look at a strange French tradition for May 1st…
May 1st : Labor Day, May Day and Lily-of-the-valley day in France
May 1st is Labor Day in France. So it’s a holiday, and people don’t work and most shops are closed.
On May 1st, it’s the tradition to give each other “un brin de muguet” (a sprig of lily-of-the-valley, pronounce it “mu gay”) for luck. Well, most people give a bunch, a small bouquet, or a live plant that you can then plant in your garden. It’s now fashionable to also mix a couple of stands of lily-of-the-valley with a rose…
When I was much younger, kids would go pick some in the woods, and sell them on the streets. On that day, everybody is allowed to sell lily-of-the-valley anywhere, even door-to-door, without any kind of permit.
More info about lily-ot-the-valley and this French tradition on wikipedia (in French)
May in France Vocabulary
- Le mois de mai – May, pronounced just like “mais” (but) in French
- Le muguet – lily-of-the-valley (pronounced “mu gay”)
- Un brin de muguet- a twig, a sprig of lily-of-the-valley
- Un bouquet de muguet– a bouquet, a bunch of lily-of-the-valley
- Un pot de muguet- a pot of lily-of-the-valley
- Offrir – to give as a gift
- Offrir du muguet – to give some lily-of-the-valley
- Un porte-bonheur – a good luck charm
- Joyeux Premier Mai – Happy May Day
- Joyeuse fête du travail – Happy Labor Day
- Joyeuse fête des mères – Happy Mother’s Day
- Est-ce que vous faites le pont de la Pentecôte ? Are you having an extended weekend around La Pentecôte?
- Je vais profiter du pont pour partir en vacances. I’ll take advantage of the long weekend to go on vacation.
And of course, another big celebration in May in France is Mother’s day! But that’s at the very end of the month for us.
In order to learn about French culture and French language in context, check out my downloadable French audiobooks, featuring different speeds of recording and enunciation, and focussing on today’s modern glided pronunciation, exclusively on sale on French Today.