All Saints’ Day – La Toussaint
A French Tradition
All Saints’ Day in France is locally known as “Toussaint” which is the contraction of “Tous les Saints”, meaning “All The Saints” in English. All Saints’ Day is a Catholic tradition of honouring the dead. This solemn event that stops the national takes place in Autumn on the 1st of November and is a national public holiday. All Saints’ Day officially starts at sundown the evening before, which is called All Hallow’s Eve.
Following All Saints’ Day on the 2nd of November, is All Souls’ Day which is also know as le Jour des Morts. This day is when people pray for the souls of the deceased. While All Souls’ Day is not a public holiday many workers take this day off as well, as the dates fall in the school holidays.
What Do People Do on All Saints’ Day?
So what do people do on All Saints’ Day also known as la Fete de la Toussaint? Being a national public holiday they do not go to work but rather traditionally spend the day visiting the graves of their family, attending church services, dining together or enjoying their short holiday break with their family. Families try to uphold the tradition of keeping the day peaceful by avoiding (or in some cases I reckon at least limiting) fighting and bickering.
Visiting The Family Graves On All Saints’ Day
As a way of honouring the dead family graves are visited, cleaned and fresh flowers are placed. People often take their own little dust brooms, cleaning clothes and vases. Weeds are removed and pebbles may even be raked around the tomb stones and crypts.
Did you know that in France graves must be maintained by family members?
Related article: Visiting and caring for family graves is an age-old tradition of French men and women and we share the heartwarming story of Frenchman John Baptist and his family in Life in France: Through a Child’s Story
Chrysanthemums And All Saints’ Day
If you visit France around All Saints’ Day you will see florist stores (fleurist) and roadside vendors overflowing with chrysanthemum flowers of all imaginable colours. This is because chrysanthemums in France are firmly associated with death. They’re mostly used in funerals and are also considered a symbol of immortality, as the plant can survive through the winter frost.
Chrysanthemums are also called mums or chrysanths and are native to Asia and northeastern Europe. Their flower heads come in different shapes and while they are associated with death in France they are given as a token of love to mothers on Mother’s Day in Australia.
This is because chrysanthemums elsewhere represent happiness, love, loyalty and devoted love. Go figure that one out! Anyhow, as traditions and meanings of flowers differ so much in different countries I am very careful about what flowers I take as a hostess gift when invited to dinner in France, or indeed on any occasion. I recommend asking the florist what they suggest in each situation.
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