As France prepares for Toussaint (Tuesday 1 November)….
Driving past the cemetery in Clairac earlier, the road was lined with parked cars as families spent time tidying the graves of their family members and friends and placed flowers on them. There was even a stall by the entrance gate with a lady selling autumn coloured chrysanthemums – the flower traditionally associated with death in France, and which should never be bought as a gift!
Toussaint – derived from the phrase ‘Tous Les Saints’ meaning ‘All the Saints’ – is held on the first of November each year. It is a Public Holiday in France and a very special day which families spend quietly together honouring their dead family members and friends and there will be numerous services in all the Catholic churches. As well as decorating the graves with flowers, family members place candles there to wish their loved ones ‘happiness in the after life’.
Interestingly, Halloween, the American celebration that has evolved from a Pagan festival and takes place on the previous night (31 October) has never been that popular in France and only a few shops have decorated windows and witches hats and broomsticks on sale.
Halloween was actually at its most popular in the years immediately after Millennium and this was mainly due to effective marketing! Children did go from door to door asking “Des bonbons ou de forces?” -‘Trick or Treat?’ If their neighbour proved less than enthusiastic, their garden would be ‘decorated’ with toilet tissue!’ In recent years, the main activity for children on Halloween is to help carve a pumpkin lantern!