October 31, 2014

French Friday: La Toussaint

Halloween has become fashionable among certain French children who enjoy emulating their American contemporaries by dressing up and even trick-or-treating. Yet most French adolescents simply look forward to their first two-week academic break which coincides with the Catholic feast day of All Saints' Day, La Toussaint.

The Church originally designated November 1st as a holy day to honor the Communion of Saints who didn't already have their own feast day. In truth, the date was also meant to distract Christians from partaking in the pagan ritual of Samhain, the end of the bright, warmth of summer and the beginning of the dark nights of winter when spirits of the dead were believed to roam among the living. Instead the popular tradition of wearing masks to scare away ghosts and spirits began to be associated with the night before All Saints and became known as All Hallow's Eve -- Halloween. Nevertheless, All Saints Day and the subsequent All Souls' Day have remained solemn in France. The faithful light candles in church to commemorate the souls of the departed, and families decorate the graves of deceased loved ones with chrysanthemums (which are, therefore, viewed as inappropriate home decor and should never be offered as a gift).

Although, I'm rarely in France in November, I do like the tradition of lighting candles to honor loved ones who are no longer with us. Each time I visit Notre Dame de Paris,  I light a candle and say a little pray for my dad and grandma who I know are smiling down on me.