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La Toussaint France – All Saints Day

Chrysanthemums of several colours being grown for La Toussaint, France

La Toussaint France is the day after Halloween. Although Halloween is celebrated in France, it’s generally not as big an event as it is in say the UK or US. Though it’s gaining popularity each year and you’ll see Halloween themed chocolates and decorations all over France.

La Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) however is a very big deal.

La Toussaint

toussaint franceThe first of November is All Saints’ Day. It is a catholic holy day and in France it’s a public holiday and a time when families visit cemeteries to remember and honour their deceased relatives. It’s traditional for families to put a pot of chrysanthemums on the graves of their family for la Fete de la Toussaint. It is a plant that is synonymous in my part of France with this event and I’ve been told to never give chrysanthemums as a gift to my French friends.

The first year I bought a house in France I bought several pots of chrysanthemums to put in the rooms as they were so lovely and bright. I had no idea what the significance was, I just thought how nice that the shops were full of colourful flowers at this time of the year. My neighbours, who have a tendency to call in to see what I am doing as they find it strange that a) we would bother to renovate such an old wreck b) I like to write about life in my very quiet village where nothing worthy of a sensationalised newspaper report seems to happen, thought it most odd. They explained that in France, these flowers are meant for the graveside.

All Souls Day

toussaint franceThe second of November is technically All Souls’ Day which you might think is better for the visit to remember those who have passed. But the second is not a holiday in France whereas the first November is, so that’s the day the French make their visits.

At this time of year the supermarkets, garden centres and florists are filled with pots of chrysanthemums in every colour. Apparently more than 25 million potted chrysanthemums are bought for this event. Secretly I hanker to fill my garden pots with them but I daren’t in case my neighbours think I don’t listen to their much valued advice on life in France.

Why chrysanthemums for La Toussaint?

I tried to find out why chrysanthemums are placed on graves for La Toussaint in France. I asked my neighbours but they didn’t know, just that it has been that way for as long as they or their parents could remember. I read one story that the chrysanthemums were used to replace candles that used to be lit on the graves and that it started in the mid 19th Century. Another story said that chrysanthemums are associated with love and eternity by the Catholic Church.  However it seems that  the choice of chrysanthemums goes back to the first anniversary of the end of World War I. My French friend Frédéric tells me “our President at the time (Raymond Poincaré) and our Government asked all French people to put flowers in cemeteries, in memory of all the soldiers. Chrysanthemums were the best choice because of their late flowering and resistance to frost”…

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