The night between the 31st of October and Toussaint Day is Halloween. A pagan tradition originating from Ireland, Halloween is considered an important celebration in America with its costumes and decorations including scary pumpkins, vampires, skeletons, ghosts and witches.

Halloween in France

Castle of Castelnaud, Dordogne © French Moments

Until recently, Halloween was known in France as an American tradition for tourists and expats. At school, French children would hear about it during their English classes.

In the mid-1990s, it all changed with commercial initiatives launched by large companies such as Mc Donald’s and Coca-Cola. In using pumpkins and orange tints in their advertising campaigns they strongly contributed to making Halloween visible to the entire French population.

The opening of Disneyland in 1992 also had a huge influence in spreading Halloween across France and continental Europe with their special Halloween themes events.

A line was crossed in 1997 when the telephone company Orange launched the funny “Olaween” advertising campaign which targeted the younger population, who are usually the ones most involved in Halloween.

Interestingly, Halloween has seen an decreasing interest since the mid-2000s. Several reasons can explain (or attempt to!) the move away from Halloween.

First, the French calendar does not favour Halloween in France for it occurs during the mid-term school break.

Secondly, the apparent lack of interest is visible through the shop window decorations of the small-sized stores found in the town-centres. After investing in “Back to School”, many shopkeepers prefer to skip Halloween and spend their money on promoting Christmas.

Thirdly, Halloween was imported as a product before becoming a popular tradition. Some people rejected it by calling it a marketing tactic that has no traditional and cultural foundation in France. Unlike in the USA where children celebrate Halloween from a very early age, the celebration has no past in France and is almost never celebrated within the family unit.

Holy Wins © French Moments
Holy Wins © French Moments

Fourthly, it overlaps with the solemnity of the established Toussaint Day (All Saints’ Day). A fact that did not put people in favour of it, including several religious leaders. To talk about the dead and death in France is still tabou and therefore, Halloween makes a part of the French population uneasy as they view it as insensitive to be partying on the eve of Toussaint, a time for honouring the dead. In October 2000, the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference asked in its bulletin:

How long can this marketing operation called Halloween continue to distort our sense of life and death?” Two years later, Paris’ diocese launched a counter-Halloween campaign based on a play on words called ‘Holy Wins‘.

Finally, one important detail: the core principle of Halloween relies on the “trick or treat”. In a blog post (no longer available) Les Filles du Marketing quite interestingly noted that the concept of private property greatly differs from the United States where the gardens and the entrance doors are easily accessible and not fenced. One comment on the post confided: “I found it strange to come into people’s homes to take sweets from them […] and most of the time they did not have any sweets for us or simply did not answer the door“.

It seems that Halloween is still alive in France but might increasingly become a niche market in the near future, only interesting teenagers and young adults who are happy to celebrate it at school or costumed parties where it seems they might have to provide their own treats!

English-French Vocabulary

(f) for féminin, (m) for masculin, (adj) for adjective and (v) for verbs

  • All Saints’ Day = Toussaint (f)
  • to celebrate = célébrer (v)
  • celebration = célébration (f)
  • ghost = fantôme (m)
  • Ireland = Irlande (f)
  • marketing = marketing (m)
  • party = fête (f)
  • sweet = bonbon (m)
  • tradition = tradition (f)
  • United States = États-Unis (m,p)
  • vampire = vampire (m)
  • witch = sorcier (m) / sorcière (f)

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. Excellent points.
    As a French living in Sydney, I’d love to read your take on Halloween transposed in the Australian context.
    As you mentioned, it feels awkward to celebrate the death in that way and we do have the Toussaint on 1 Nov followed by the day for the death on 2 Nov. The comment on private property is also spot on, especially as an organised thing. Of course, French people are happy to give stuff to kids but as a one off, say the scouts coming to sell their calendars, kids from the neighbourhood selling their raffle tickets… But that one night where you’re supposed to be on standby waiting for sweet-hungry kids, no thanks!
    It feels on the other hand that Aussies are trying hard at getting Halloween right. Or could it be because I live in a suburb where a majority of British and Irish lives?

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