Hallowe’en starts early in the town of Marchiennes in Northern France, where one of the last witch trials took place. Péronne Goguillon, her daughter and three other women were burnt at the stake in 1679.
On the first Sunday of October since 1991, the tourist office organises the Cucurbitades Festival held on the site of an ancient abbey. A celebration displaying 900 colourful varieties of the marrow/squash family, sown, grown and gathered by more than 60 volunteer gardeners as well as honouring the Marchiennes witches of yesteryear. On the day before there is a special festival called Le Cucurbi-Mômes which is aimed at enchanting children. There are also nightly bewitching tours and a chance to meet the gardeners who grow the gourds (see tourist office website for full programme).
Two hundred volunteers and 60 craftsmen prepare the day so that visitors can admire pumpkins, patty pans, calabashes, marrow and bitter apples at the exhibitions and buy some at the market. Poetic, cultural and captivating, with all-day street entertainment leading up to the closing show in the ruins of the Benedictine Abbey. Theatrical groups put on spectacular displays an there is an air of great revelry. This is an event full of pageantry and magical street performance, weird and wonderful costumes, fire eaters, stilt walkers and weird and wonderful costumes. This really is a magical pumpkin festival in France
The trials are re-enacted, followed by the burning at the stake. In order to thank the 30,000 spectators for their support, the witches throw chocolate and gold coins into the crowd.
There is a car park and free shuttle from the Leisure Centre “Les Evoiches”. Entry prices and details from the Marchiennes Tourist office website.
Location: Marchiennes is situated in the Nord department (Nord-Pas-de-Calais region) in the north-east of France, 30 km (18 miles) from Lille, and 117 km (72 miles) from the port at Calais.
By Marilyn Catchpole-Dossat