What is la Toussaint, All Saints’ Day in France

8

All Saints’ Day in France marks a school and work break half-way between Summer and Christmas. For the French catholics, “Toussaint” is a special time for honouring the dead. A time to visit cemeteries and put flowers on the graves. However, for others the end of October is associated with Halloween. The French way bien sûr !

 


The commemoration of All Saints’ Day in France

All Saints' Day in France - Père Lachaise, Paris © French Moments

All Saints’ Day in France – The Père Lachaise cemetery © French Moments

French people commemorate the dead in Autumn on the 1st of November. The date is a public holiday.

All Saints’ Day or All Souls’ Day?

In addition the catholic tradition makes a distinction between:

  • Toussaint (All Saints’ Day, on the 1st of November) and
  • the “Commémoration des fidèles défunts” (All Souls’ Day, on the 2nd of November).

Dead relatives are supposed to be commemorated on the 2nd of November. But since Toussaint is a public holiday, French people honour the dead on the 1st of November.

Members of a family usually gather to go to the cemetery together. Family members decorate the grave with potted:

  • heather, (bruyère),
  • chrysanthemum (chrysanthèmes) and/or
  • immortal wreaths (couronnes d’immortelles – everlasting flowers)

Sometimes they light candles to symbolise happiness in the afterlife. They can also attend special church services: the All Saints Mass (Messe de la Toussaint).

The opportunity of a family reunion

Toussaint can be a very important moment for families. For instance they can spend a day together in a respectful atmosphere. A time which generally excludes usual family fights… even though regrets and sorrow can be a source of tension.

To sum up, Toussaint is an opportunity to strengthen family links spending a nice day together or expressing common grief.


The origins of Toussaint in France

All Saints' Day in France - Père Lachaise in Paris © French Moments

All Saints’ Day in France – Cemetery of Père Lachaise, Paris © French Moments

For a long time Toussaint was celebrated after the Easter celebrations or after Pentecost.

From 610AD, Pope Boniface IV made the 13th of May a day consecrated to the memory of the Christian martyrs.

The 1st of November used to be Samhain (later known as the “Celtic New Year“). The pagan day started a week of festivities in honour of the beginning of the year and of the dark season.

Pope Gregory III may well be at the origin of the first Toussaint celebration falling on the 1st November. However it is Pope Gregory IV who ordered in 835 all the Christians to celebrate Toussaint on the 1st of November. In France, Carolingian Emperor Louis the Pious relayed Gregory IV’s decision.

All Saints Day and potato harvest!

The Toussaint period used to be the same as the potato harvest time. All the family was working in the fields. This implied that the children were massively missing classes.

Consequently, “potato holidays” were organised. They lasted two weeks, usually between the 22st of October and the 3rd of November. They later became the Toussaint holidays. A school break that is still enjoyed by French pupils today!


What about Halloween in France?

All Saints' Day in France - Catacombs of Paris © French Moments

The ossuary of the catacombs of Paris © French Moments

The night between the 31st of October and Toussaint’s day is Halloween night.

Halloween is the contraction of “All Hallows Eve”. However the customs originates from  Samhain.

The pagan religious festival originates from Ireland. It refers to the legend of Jack O’Lantern, a greedy drunkard who cheated the Devil twice. After his death, his soul could not enter Heaven or Hell. He convinced the Devil to give him an ember, which he put in a hollowed out turnip. It provided light for himself in his everlasting wandering.

Halloween in America

After a famine in 1646/1648, Halloween immigrated to the United States along with the Irish people.

At the end of the 19th century, American people began celebrating Halloween with costumes and decorations including skeletons, ghosts or witches.

In the 1930’s the trick or treat custom appeared. Disguised children knocked at the neighbours’ doors asking for candies.

All Saints' Day in France, Saint-Michel basilica, Bordeaux © French Moments

In the gloomy crypt under the tower of St. Michel, Bordeaux © French Moments

Is Halloween celebrated in France today?

In France Halloween was spreading very slowly until the 1990s. That decade saw a growing interest in celebrating Halloween. They are many reasons to explain this, such as:

  • The popular “Olaween” advertising campaign of the telephone company Orange,
  • A few specific events in Disneyland Paris,
  • Other commercial initiatives made the American celebration popular in France.

Therefore, Halloween was rejected by those who called it a folkloric marketing operation.

French-style Halloween: a trashy and gruesome celebration?

For in France, Halloween presents a trashy and bloody dimension that differs from the original American version. The celebration is particularly animated by an atmosphere of fear and provocation. In other words, French Halloween makes wide use of hideousness, gruesomeness, witchcraft.

Therefore the youth adopted it rapidly for its taste of paranormal and witchcraft, as well as role plays and “Gothic” fashion. Some people see it as a macabre version of carnival!

Unsurprisingly, several French religious leaders opposed this new version of Halloween. Above all they despised it for encouraging a culture of death. The religious authorities question the normalisation of the occult world on children… at a time when the focus should be on Toussaint!

The reaction of Paris’ diocese was an interested one. For instance the religious authorities organised a rival event – a play on words: “Holy Wins”.

All Saints' Day in France - Passy Cemetery in Paris © French Moments

All Saints’ Day in France – The cemetery of Passy, Paris © French Moments

Des bonbons ou des farces ?

Nevertheless, around the year 2000, costumes and decorations filled the shops: ghosts, skeletons, witches, Frankenstein monsters, vampires or mummies…

Candies sales increased by 30%.

Children dressed in gory Halloween costumes put into action a French adaptation of the American trick or treat : “des bonbons ou des farces” (candies or pranks).

The less cooperating neighbours might end up with their garden and house decorated with toilet tissue or eggs.

Digging and carving pumpkins in order to make lanterns was also a family activity that children enjoyed a lot.

But from 2008, it seems that the French’s interest in Halloween is stalling. The celebration still exists, but it has become more discreet. Eventually, Halloween sales (decorations, costumes, candies) never outdid Toussaint flowers sales.


The best places to visit during All Saints’ Day in Paris!

You’re heading to Paris in the end of October? Here’s a selection of sites you might enjoy visiting:

Paris Cemeteries

You have the choice of many cemeteries! The most famous (and largest) is the Père Lachaise.

Click here to get your ticket for a guided tour of the Père Lachaise cemetery!

  • The visit includes a 2-hour tour of the Père Lachaise Cemetery with an expert, English-speaking guide.
  • You’ll see the graves of Balzac, Chopin, Delacroix, Molière, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Proust, and more…

Other cemeteries are worth a visit too:

The Catacombs

To get into the gory atmosphere of Halloween, this place is definitely the most unsettling one in Paris. It is not a fake tourist attraction – the bones and skulls are real. Find out more!

Click here to get your ticket for the Catacombs of Paris!

The eTicket features:

  • Skip The Line
  • Smartphone tickets accepted
  • Instant ticket delivery
All Saints' Day in France - The catacombs of Paris © French Moments

A visit to the gloomy catacombs of Paris © French Moments


Read more about All Saints’ Day in France and Halloween

Did you find what you read interesting? If so, please do share this article on Facebook or twitter!


Inspired? Pin it for later:

Toussaint - All Saints Day in France © French Moments


Some of the links above are affiliates so if you’re planning a trip, using these links helps me keep things running. There’s no extra cost to you. All you have to do is click the link and any booking you make is automatically tracked.


 

Share.

About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

8 Comments

  1. Merci pour l’information ! Je vais la partager avec mes etudiants en francais 2 et 4 pour feter en classe. Les etudiants vont apporter des photos des gens qui sont decedes et je vais leur expliquer l’histoire et ce que les francais font aujourd’hui pour se souvenir de leurs proches.

    • Bonjour Scott. Merci beaucoup pour le feedback. C’est un honneur de servir de ressource pour les écoles ! En vous souhaitant bonne continuation, à bientôt ! 🙂

  2. Kathy VICHTA on

    Bonjour Pierre,
    Thank you so much for your blog – I have enjoyed it very much and have used it for our three visits to Paris, two of them with my little grand-daughter. We have used many of your hints about places to go – and hired a phone for her from Insidr the most recent time in May this year. I look forward to lots more wonderful information.

    • Well thank you Kathy for your nice comment. I’m glad to hear this blog is helpful for you! Looking forward to bring you more of Paris and France in the future! 🙂

  3. Kathy VICHTA on

    Dear Pierre,
    We will be in the south of France in October this year and have just realised (through your blog) that we plan to travel from Toulouse to Paris on All Saints Day 1st November to meet our flight home to Australia on 2nd November. Do you think there will be any problem with travelling on this day? We will be staying the night of 1st near the station in Montparnasse. Is there likely to be anything special happening there on 1st or 2nd November – anything we could attend?

    • Bonjour Kathy ! Thank you for your comment. Yes they should be not problem regarding travelling on those dates. The only thing is that on a bank holiday train services will be scheduled at different times and may be less frequent. Just check out the timetable before and/or buy your tickets in advance and you’ll be fine!
      There’s nothing in particular to attend in the Toussaint weekend – except for cemeteries (Père Lachaise, Montparnasse…) but I’m guessing they will be crowded! 🙂
      Have a great time in France!

Leave A Reply

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.