November 1st – Festival of the dead
La Toussaint (abbreviation of ‘Tous les saints) in France Or All Saint’s Day, was originally created by the Catholic Church to honour the poor old saints and martyrs who didn’t have their own holy day.
It was also believed to be an attempt by the church to detract attention from the Celtic, Pagan celebration of Samhain, (pronounced sow-in), born in the British Isles, later to become Halloween.
The festival celebrated the end of the bright, warm days of summer and the beginning of the cold dark nights of winter, when spirits were supposed to rise from the dead – none too Catholic for the controlling church..
But it was too late! To the dismay of the Church, ghost, ghoulie and evil beastie celebrations had already caught on and Halloween soon became a yearly festival of masks and disguises to scare away the spooks and evil spirits.
Halloween in France however, has only recently become fashionable thanks (?) to films and American sit coms, McDo etc, all of which have given French children a taste for dressing up and ‘trick and treating’. This tradition of asking for sweets has moved a long way from its original intention, when the poor would go from door to door receiving food in return for prayers for the dead.
Cemeteries are busy on this day of remembrance and chrysanthemums are on sale on every street. Don’t offer them to your hostess (or your mother-in-law) when invited out for dinner! They are for the dead
So why chrysanthemums?
At the 1918 armistice, the French Government asked people to put flowers on graves in memory of the dead. Chrysanthemums were chosen for their long flowering period, and also for the fact that in flower speak, they signify love and long life.