10 things you need to know about Halloween in France
Why do the French hate Halloween? If you're looking to celebrate an American-style Halloween in France, you might be disappointed. Here are 10 things you should know before preparing your Halloween costume.
Despite the anti-sentiment surrounding an American-style Halloween and the fact that the concept of Halloween in France is relatively new, it is still somewhat celebrated in small pockets throughout the country. Here are a few things you should know before going to various fete d'Halloween events to make your French Halloween more enjoyable.
1. Halloween is considered an American celebration – and that’s not a compliment
The idea of French Halloween is seen as yet another imposition of American culture on French customs and traditions – right after American fast-food chains and ketchup. This alone is enough to make many French people turn their patriotic nose up at the idea of celebrating or embracing Halloween in France.
Ironically, Halloween actually originates from Europe and is thought to be of Celtic origins. In fact, wearing a costume or mumming and going door-to-door on certain holidays has existed since the Middle Ages – only people used to perform short plays in exchange for food or drink instead of asking for candy.
2. Many French people think Halloween is too commercial
Another belief, which only adds to the anti-French Halloween sentiment, is that the event is purely a commercial celebration used to boost the sales of stores and line the pockets of retail store owners with cash.
I believe that these people just don’t understand what or how Halloween is celebrated. They don’t see it as a community-based ritual or a great family-friendly event where kids and parents get to have fun dressing up as anything they want, go to parties, eat and laugh together.
If they did, then perhaps they would embrace Halloween in France as much as they do Christmas, Mothers' Day and Valentines Day – French holidays that are as commercial as Halloween, if not more. In fact, I actually find Halloween less commercial than celebrating Christmas in France. But hey that’s just me.
3. Halloween is seen as a threat to existing French traditions
The French are fiercely proud about their customs almost to a snobbish fault. Anything, or in this case, any celebration that disrupts or takes away from those traditions is often seen as a threat not a treat.
Since Halloween in France is not a traditional holiday in France, having first been introduced to France in the 90s, it has the unfortunate luck to occur right in the middle of La Toussaint, also known in English as All Saints Day, a widely celebrated national holiday in France on 1 November.
On this day, people in France honour the dead by placing flowers on loved ones' graves and go to special church events. Banks, stores and businesses are all closed on this day.
But All Saints Day is not just a one-day event. Children have two weeks off from school beginning mid-October up until 1 November. I think many anti-halloweeners believe Halloween robs the attention away from this traditional holiday in France.
4. Very few children go door-to-door trick-or-treating during Halloween in France
Don’t load up on bags of candy because you’ll be lucky to get any trick-or-treaters knocking on your door during Halloween in France.
We have never received more than three groups of children knocking on our door on French Halloween. I am told there are towns in France where Halloween has taken off with various fete d'Halloween events but these are the exception and not the rule.
5. French Halloween costumes are typically scary and never cute
Unlike in North America where anything goes when it come to Halloween costumes, the few adults and kids you see dressed up for Halloween in France will invariably be in traditionally scary and ghoulish costumes like vampires, ghosts and skeletons.
Costumes of the less scary genre like kittens, princesses and Ninja Turtles are reserved for the top Carnival festivals in February – a much-loved holiday in France. I really find it strange how so many French people have such a negative view on Halloween but celebrate Carnival by dressing up. They have festivals, parades and celebrations around Carnival – most schools even have their own mini-parade where everyone is in costume – yet Carnival is not seen as commercial as Halloween.
6. Halloween parties are more typical than trick-or-treaters
If you are in France and absolutely want to celebrate French Halloween, here is my advice: make friends who actually enjoy Halloween.
In the more than four year we have lived in France, we have been lucky enough to have French friends who actually love and celebrate Halloween in France. If you are not invited to a French Halloween party, throw your own. If you’re not in a position to throw your own fete d'Halloween party then check out local bars, many of which may have Halloween themes and specials.
7. Don’t say "trick-or-treat"
When a kid comes to the door asking for candy or les bon bons during Halloween in France, they don’t say 'trick or treat'. Instead, they ask you in French if you would like 'candies or a spell' or 'mischief or sweets'.
- Candies or a spell: Des bonbons ou un sort?
- Mischief or sweets: Bêtises ou friandises?
8. Most French people can’t pronounce Halloween
There are a few sounds French people have a hard time pronoucing, similar to how English speakers struggle to make the 'r' and the 'u' sound like in the word 'rue' (it’s not pronounced 'roo'). In French, most French people struggle with the 'th' sound, which when said by a French person, usually sounds like the 'd' sound. So the word 'this' gets pronounced as 'dis'.
The second sound French seem to have a hard time pronouncing is the letter 'h'. So 'Halloween' usually gets pronounced as 'aaa-lo-ween'.
9. You can’t find candy corn in France
If you hate candy corn – which was voted as one of the most popular Halloween treats in the US – then you’ll be happy to learn that candy corn does not exist in France. If you really must buy some for Halloween in France, you can to order it online, for example, from the My American Market food store.
10. Go with the flow and find other people who celebrate Halloween in France
Despite all the anti-sentiment and French Halloween naysayers, French people who understand just how fun Halloween can be do in fact celebrate it. You just need to know where and how to find them.
If you have kids, you could ask other parents if they plan on celebrating or you could just wing it like we did this year and go door-to-door with your kids. Unfortunately, most people did not answer their door and others had no candy. But we still had fun. My two teenage boys went to a fete d'Halloween house party and got dressed up as well.
You could luck out like we do every year and have friends who invite you to their French Halloween party or you could organise your own Halloween party and invite people.
And last but not least, some bars have special themes around Halloween in France.
To learn more about the origins of ancient and modern Halloween check out this video from the History Channel.
Annie André moved to the south of France with her husband and three children in 2010 for a one-year family gap year that turned into a five-plus-years adventure. She shares what she's learned about the process of moving to France and gives tips on surviving French culture on her blog AnnieAndre.com. Photo Credit: New Brunswick Tourism (thumbnail).
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