La Toussaint France is the day after Halloween. Although Halloween is celebrated in France, it’s not as big an event as it is in say the UK or US, in fact it’s a far more muted affair. In our village the kids might go trick or treating and in the local shops there may be a pumpkin and a witch poster, even some Halloween themed chocolates but compared with some countries, it’s rather played down.
La Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) however is a very big deal.
The 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 chrysanthemums to put in the rooms as they were so lovely and 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, thought it most odd to fill the house with flowers meant for the graveside. As usual I received a lesson in what I should not be doing, strangely I get more of those lessons than the ones that tell me what I should be doing.
The 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 2nd is not a holiday in France whereas the 1st 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 holiday.
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 (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”…