Hallowe’en and Toussaint

I’ve just found the blog post I wrote at our very first Hallowe’en season in France, back in 2007.  This particular celebration seems to have become more and more Americanised here in the UK, and now in France too. In fact, I understand that the Fête de la Citrouille in Belesta is no more.  Exhibiting pumpkins has been exchanged for ‘trick or treating’: 0r as the French so snappily put it ‘Donnez-nous des bonbons ou nous vous jetons un mauvais sort’.

I thought I’d like to reminisce.  Here’s that blog post from a day in our very first autumn in France.

Pumpkin stall: most of these were grown by just one man
Pumpkin stall: most of these were grown by just one man

‘In Harrogate, Hallowe’en seems to mean spending the evening of 31st October greeting a steady stream of cheerful young witches, wizards, ghosts and ghouls to the door threatening tricks if they don’t get their treats. Here in nearby Belesta, it’s something rather different, since the period round Hallowe’en is for them  La Fête de la Citrouille – the Feast of the Pumpkin.

Well, just look at those pictures. If you could grow pumpkins like that, wouldn’t you want to celebrate? Yesterday, we had real fun looking round on the first day, which was also their Vide-Grenier day (Empty Your Attics). Pretty much like an English car boot sale really, except the stalls spread through the streets of the town. French attics and barns can turn out some splendidly puzzling tools and equipment, and as for the light fittings…… We enjoyed rooting around, and got ourselves quite a hoard of books at knock-down prices.

Of course the highlight of the day was yet another walk, a long ramble from Lesparrou, where we had dumped the car, along the wooded banks of l’Hers and through fairly isolated hamlets with picturesquely dilapidated (but still functional) barns, and productive potagers. Every day, the snow on the Pyrenees creeps just a little lower down the slopes, and we enjoy watching its progress. We ourselves celebrate the fact that the steeply wooded slopes which form part of nearly every walk become less strenuous as our fitness increases.’

It seems all such a distant memory now.  Back in England, we don’t enjoy the huge variety of pumpkins, squash and gourds which are part of every autumn and winter market in France.  Back in England, All Saints’ Day on November 1st goes unremarked.  Our cemetries are not suddenly overwhelmed with pots – hundreds and hundreds of pots – of chrysanthemums, as the entire population make this annual pilgrimage to the graves of their relatives during the period of ‘la Toussaint’.  Even though it’s half-term here too, our roads are not suddenly nose-to-tail with holiday makers as French families take this last opportunity to get away together before Christmas.  In England, as shopkeepers clear away the pumpkins and Hallowee’en paraphernalia, they’ll fill their shelves with Christmas goods.  That won’t happen in France, not until early December.  Hallowe’en and Toussaint have a particular feel in France which is quite absent from the same period in England.  I miss the pumpkins.  But not the chrysanthemums.

Chrysanthemums for Toussaint.  Wikimedia Commons
Chrysanthemums for Toussaint. Wikimedia Commons

8 thoughts on “Hallowe’en and Toussaint”

  1. How sad, that the pumpkin festival is no longer happening! It sounds like such a wonderful fall festival–I hate it when that kind of local tradition gets dropped. It’s interesting to read the comparison between English and French approaches to these holidays. Americans are much more like the English, and more so, about skipping any religious or sentimental aspects of the holidays and just rushing into the Christmas buying season.

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    1. I find it sad as well that when the children dress up on these occasions, it’s all store-bought stuff. None of that messing about with dad’s old shirt, a few sequins and whatever’s kicking round the attic. Heigh ho. Must be getting old.

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  2. Sorry? “In England, as shopkeepers clear away the pumpkins and Hallowee’en paraphernalia, they’ll fill their shelves with Christmas goods.” Not down here they don’t! Christmas arrived in September. I also think that most of the pumpkins are grown round here as we have fields of them and for the last two weeks of October the lanes are filled with lorries with their orange loads.

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    1. I actually thought that the whole Christmas fever thing in the UK was getting better: far less evidence than there used to be that Christmas is coming in a month or two. And those fields of pumpkins: wouldn’t it be nice if they grew a few of the more interesting varieties instead of the inevitable Jack O’Lantern?

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