Vita Gazette

News from Italy

May 1 and Hawthorn Blossom

by  Andira Vitale

The first May Day celebrations arose in pre-Christian times, with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries;

This day, when the flowers of love bloomed and were distributed, later began to be celebrated as the “Defence of workers’ rights”. One of the first blood dripped on May Day 122 years before our time in the small industrial town of Fourmies. The tradition of giving flowers to loved ones on May 1 was also present here. Young betrothed couples had given each other branches of flowering buckthorn for centuries. On this beautiful day, the flowers will be covered with blood; after that day, the flower of love and the labour day will never be separated…

It was May 1 in 1891. Half of the Fourmies, where Maria Blondeau lived as a cotton worker, was in the textile industry. Of the 6,910 residents, 3,790 worked in the textile industry. The workers’ wages were low, and the working hours were long. The Young French Workers’ Party also opened a local branch here. They grew more robust, and workers that day, including Maria Blondeau, demanded the eight-hour day and a rise in wages.

From 5 in the morning, the activity started in the city. Demonstrators oscillated between factory occupations and street parades. Although the atmosphere was festive initially, the situation became tense after the gendarmes arrested a dozen demonstrators at 3 pm. From then on, Maria Blondeau took charge of the regiment, along with her fiancé Kléber Giloteaux and other young workers. In the foreground were the “May bearers” of young girls holding bouquets of hawthorn, the symbol of spring, of which Maria was a part. Maria was also carrying the hawthorn bouquet given by her fiancé early in the morning. At 18:15, after a final series of quarrels, a single salvo was fired without warning. The proximity between the soldiers who came, in addition to the gendarmerie and the demonstrators gathered in the village square, caused the sudden death of nine people and the injury of more than 35.

One of the dead was Maria Blondeau. She was holding a bloody branch of “buckthorn” in her hands. Just that morning, her fiancee had given her this flowery branch, the symbol of lovers. Born into a humble working-class family like herself, Maria became the symbolic figure of the day on May 1, 1891. With a flower in hand…

The symbolic image of Maria Blondeau, a worker holding a bouquet of bloody hawthorn in the face of the violence of the police, will help to make her one of the emblematic figures of non-violent struggles as well as the defence of the rights of workers. But, if the square where the Fourmies spinning museum now bears his name, it is mainly in the register of popular songs that her image has had the most influence.

On the first day of May, people present a stalk of Hawthorn flowers to their relatives or strangers. Then, these flowers and May Day are inseparable from this time; they are remembered together.

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