The French are famous for their holidays. There are three in the month of May alone, and most French people take a whole month off in the summer. And I can’t say that I object to this. On the contrary, I appreciate the fact that the culture of France values and prioritizes rest and relaxation so much. And it just so happens that today is a public holiday in France, although likely one you’ve never heard of. Today, the French celebrate La Toussaint, or, All Saint’s Day.
All Saint’s Day, not All Soul’s Day
Yes, there is a distinction. All Saint’s Day is a Catholic tradition that dates back to the 7th century. It is a day to celebrate Christian martyrs, and it was originally observed on May 13th. However, in the 9th century, Pope Gregory IV ordered the date of observance to be moved to November 1st to supplant the pagan holiday of Samhaim. Which was very on brand for a 9th century Pope.
On the other hand, All Soul’s Day is another Catholic tradition where the memory of your deceased loved ones and their souls are remembered and honoured. All Soul’s Day is technically celebrated on November 2nd, but because November 1st is a public holiday in France, the two observances have merged together over time so that families can remember their departed loved ones together.
Celebrating La Toussaint
Today, La Toussaint is marked by copious amounts of flower buying all throughout the country. Chrysanthemums are particularly popular, with many flower vendors selling out by the end of the day. Families gather in cemeteries and mausoleums, they adorn their loved ones’ graves with flowers and lit candles, and if you’re Catholic, you attend a special All Saint’s Day mass. It might not seem like it for an event often called the Day of the Dead, but All Saint’s Day is actually a lovely tradition. I love the idea of taking a whole day to celebrate the memories of your loved ones.
But What About Halloween?
Interestingly enough, the French are decidedly “Meh” about the holiday that is beloved in my home country. I remember being invited to a Halloween party my first year in Paris, and I was the only one dressed up on the metro. I received quite a lot of weird looks, let me tell you. Fun fact. Halloween was briefly popular in the 90s when Disneyland Paris first opened and tried to import the American version of the holiday to France. However, this initiative was short lived, and today, chrysanthemum sales far outpace candy sales in the lead up to October 31/November 1.
Joyeuse Toussaint everyone!
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.