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All Saints’ Day in France marks a school and work break halfway between Summer and Christmas. For the French Catholics, “la 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!


Watch a short video presentation of Toussaint in France:



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:

  • la Toussaint (All Saints’ Day, on the 1st of November) and
  • la 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)
Passy Cemetery Paris
Chrysanthemums for All Saints’ Day in France © French Moments

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 by spending a nice day together or expressing common grief.


The origins of Toussaint in France

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 was 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 the dark season.

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

Les Baux-de-Provence © French Moments
The old cemetery of Les Baux-de-Provence © French Moments


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 22nd 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 originate 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 eternal wandering.


Halloween in America

Following the Irish potato famine in 1846/1848, Halloween immigrated to the United States along with the Irish people.

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

In the 1930s, 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 spread very slowly until the 1990s. That decade saw a growing interest in celebrating Halloween. They are many reasons to explain this, such as:

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

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

Halloween in Alsace - Hans Trapp © French Moments
The villain of Halloween in Alsace: Hans Trapp © French Moments


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 uses hideousness, gruesomeness, and witchcraft.

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

Candy 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 to make lanterns were also family activities 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 flower sales.

Halloween in Alsace - Places of Legends © French Moments
Halloween in Alsace – Altkirch © French Moments


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

You’re heading to Paris at 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.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery © French Moments
Autumn at Père Lachaise Cemetery © French Moments

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:

All Saints' Day in France - Montparnasse Cemetery © French Moments
Montparnasse Tower from the eponymous Cemetery © French Moments
All Saints' Day in France - Montmartre cemetery © French Moments
Montmartre Cemetery, Paris © French Moments
All Saints' Day in France - Passy Cemetery © French Moments
The cemetery of Passy, Paris © French Moments


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

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Toussaint - All Saints Day in France © French Moments


Other photos of All Saints’ Day in France

Whether in spring or autumn, some cemeteries are places of discovery and even of strolling.

Montparnasse Cemetery © French Moments
Montparnasse Cemetery © French Moments
All Saints' Day in France - Passy Cemetery © French Moments
The cemetery of Passy, Paris © French Moments
Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris © French Moments
Autumn in the Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris © French Moments
All Saints' Day in France - Pere Lachaise Cemetery © French Moments
Edith Piaf, Pere Lachaise Cemetery © French Moments
All Saints' Day in France Montmartre Cemetery © French Moments
Tomb of Dalida at the Montmartre Cemetery, Paris © French Moments
All Saints' Day in France - Montmartre Cemetery © French Moments
Under the Caulaincourt bridge, Montmartre Cemetery, Paris © French Moments

Holidays and Celebrations in France

Learn more about the seasons, celebrations and public holidays in France:

About the 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. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, 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. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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  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.

    1. 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. 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.

    1. 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. 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?

    1. 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!

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