Across the United States, millions of children will participate in various Halloween activities next Monday. Since the migration of Irish farmers during the infamous Potato Famine, Halloween has been a cultural staple. Every year, children dress up in costumes and go door-to-door hoping for sweet treats. Teenagers and adults often attend corn mazes or haunted houses in lieu of trick-or-treating. In America, Halloween is intertwined with our lives in late October.
In France, however, the holiday is barely celebrated! On October 31st, few kids will be participating in “bonbons ou des farces,” the French version of trick-or-treating. Instead, they will be preparing for the following day: La Toussaint. A contraction of tous les saints (all the saints), La Toussaint is a day of commemoration in France. Families gather for reunions and celebrations in honor of family members who have passed. Observed on November 1st, the holiday is nationally recognized and people receive the day off from work and school. School children already have this day off for their “potato holidays,” a long-standing tradition. Historically, the end of October was the potato harvest, and schools would go on break so children could help with the crops. Now, the tradition remains and schools are typically closed from around October 22nd to November 3rd.
The tradition stems back to the 4th century, when it was observed around Easter. However, the November 1st date was officially decided by Pope Gregory IV 800s. The day has changed over time, however. Initially, families simply visited gravestones and memorialized the deceased as a group. According to Catholic tradition, mourning shouldn’t take place until the following day, November 2nd. This day has been labeled la Commémoration des fidèles défunts (All Souls’ Day).
At some point, grave decoration became a common tradition for La Toussaint. Now, almost every grave across France will be adorned with chrysanthemums on November 1st. It is believed that the tradition of
chrysanthemums stems from the WWI memorials, where the government encouraged their use for soldier memorials. Additionally, the plants are often in peak flowering season during the late fall, making them perfect for the November holiday. This year, La Toussaint will be celebrated on Wednesday, November 1st!