Proverb has it ‘en Avril ne te découvre pas d’un fil’ (Never cast a cloud till May be out) but ‘En mai fait ce qu’il te plaît’ (in May do what you please!)
We French love the month of May. Spring is in full swing, temperatures are quite warm, sun is shiny and we are happy to put away our dark winter clothes and bring back our spring and summer ones. We love to put our sunglasses on and get together with our friends to sip a glass of rosé or a cocktail on a café-terrace on the Promenade des Anglais or in Place Garibaldi. Or we may go to share the first delicious Fenocchio Ice Cream of the season in the Old Town of Nice.
What French People love most about May is that there are plenty of bank holidays providing long weekends. Some are content to have a lie in and chill out on the sofa all day while others prefer to go away with the kids for a family reunion.
The first of May is a public holiday, known as La Fête du Travail (National Labour Day) but also called La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day). It is a tradition in France to offer a sprig of lily-of-the-vallet on that day to those we love. You will see many little bunches of this beautifully scented spring flower in florists or supermarkets. When I was a child I used to visit my grandma a few days before May Day in order to cut lilys-of-the-valley to give to my parents. Her back garden would be carpeted in white with them. My cousins would gather the rest of them to sell at the edge of the roads to make a bit of pocket money.
In May “The Niçois” have another tradition called La Fête des Mais or in Nissart “Lu Festin des Nissa” if you are here it’s not to be missed.
In the Comté de Nice since the Roman times we have celebrated the springtime revival of life by the planting of a “mai” (a big pine tree) in a temple or on the central square of a village.
In the Old Town of Nice “mais” are erected in different symbolic places. They are decorated with garlands of flowers and laurel and the Facades are lit up with colourful paper lanterns. For centuries, the custom in the warmth of the day and the soft spring evenings, has been to “vira lou mai” (to circle the mai). Villagers dance around the mais to the sound of fife and drum. They celebrate the pleasure of getting together, eating niçois specialities, playing at “virtou”, “pignata” or “pilou” and electing a “Reine des mais” the Queen of the May.
In the 19e century, each neighbourhood or hamlet organised its own “mais” But then the tradition faded and was not relaunched until the beginning of the XX century when a group of Niçois revived the happy and convivial atmosphere of the old customs.
Since then each year the memory of our ancestors has continued to be honored with a “festin” on the 1st of May. During these festive days, Niçoise culture and language (A unique mix of centuries of historique French and Italian merging) is proudly honored with traditional folk costumes, music, songs and dances of Comté de Nice. Italian bands may also join the party to the great delight of spectators…
A popular part of the bucolic festivity of the “mais” is held in the midst of hundred-years-old olive trees in the Jardins des Arènes de Cimiez, a beautiful garden built on the ruins of a former roman city called Céménelum. Here families get together and picnic in the shade of the olive trees, eating tasty Niçois delicacies such as (socca, pissaladière, pan-bagnat or tourte de blette).
Here below is the program of Fête des Mais/Lu Festin des Nissa, festivities will be running every Sunday till the end of May in Nice! entrance is free.
Les Jardins de Cimiez
Friday 1st of May 2015 and Sundays 3th, 10th, 17th & 24th from 11.30am to 7pm.
Place Pierre Gautier – in the Old Nice, nearby the Cours Saleya
Saturday the 9th of May 2015 from 10am to 6pm
Parc Carol de Roumanie – 23, avenue de Fabron
Saturday the 16th of May 2015 from 10am to 6pm
Parc Chambrun – 10-15 avenue George Sand
Saturday the 23th of May 2015 from 10am to 6pm
Place Arson – at the crossroad of rue Barla and rue Arson
Saturday the 30th of May 2015 from 10am to 6pm