After living in France for over a decade with my husband and three children, we’ve encountered many people who celebrate Halloween in one form or another.
However, we’ve also learned that Halloween is somewhat of a controversial and confusing holiday to the French.
I would go so far as to say that many people in France hate Halloween. To be fair, a lot of people hate Halloween, but that’s a story for another time.
Here’s why Halloween is so controversial and why it’s not popular in France.
Our first Halloween in France
We moved to France on October 6th, 2011.
When Halloween rolled around a couple of weeks later, our daughter, who had just turned 4, wanted to celebrate Halloween.
We even packed a costume in our luggage, which we bought at Winners, the outlet store in Montreal.
We didn’t know anyone; we didn’t know much about Marseille, our new city, or French customs.
We also didn’t know that the average French person sees Halloween as a morbid, superficial, commercial holiday imported from the United States.
You might be interested in reading 10 things you didn’t know about Halloween in France but should.
Halloween Controversy In France: Why the French hate Halloween
1) Halloween is not part of French traditions
Before the 1990s, Halloween was relatively unknown to the average French person, so it’s not a traditional celebration in France. Unlike Easter, Christmas or Mother’s Day, these celebrations and French holidays have deep-rooted history and cultural significance that the average French person can easily understand and relate to.
Fake blood, vampires, cutting up pumpkins instead of eating them and going from house to house for candy? What’s the point?
2) French people don’t know how to celebrate Halloween
Although everyone knows about Halloween in France, most people are confused about how to celebrate it because they didn’t grow up with it.
They understand the basic concept, but the idea of going door to door dressed up in ghoulish costumes and asking for candy is very foreign. It holds no meaning for the vast majority of people.
3) Fear and horror element
Scary ghoulish costumes, cut-off hands, fake blood, tombs and death.
Some French parents, like this one, find Halloween decorations and costumes too grotesque, morbid, and gory, especially for young children. They don’t understand what’s so fun about the grotesque horror element of Halloween.
3) Halloween is seen as an imported American culture
Despite the fact that Halloween originates from Europe, probably of Celtic origins, it’s regarded as yet another imposition of American culture on French customs and traditions right after McDonald’s and Ketchup.
This association with American and Anglo-Saxon culture is enough to make some French people turn their noses up to the idea of Halloween.
The fear is that the French identity and French traditions get lost when they are borrowed from anglophone countries.
4) Bad timing: Halloween steals the limelight from another French holiday
Another reason Halloween is not well received in France is because of timing.
Halloween occurs the day before an all-important Catholic holiday called La Toussaint (All Saints Day) on November 1st when people visit cemeteries and freshen up the graves and tombstones of their loved ones with fresh flowers.
French people who want to preserve French traditions prefer to focus on established French customs.
5) Halloween is seen as a crass commercial way for stores to make more money.
Nobody likes blatant commercialism, but it’s a necessity which many French businesses take advantage of during Halloween, and some French people don’t like that, especially when it comes to an imported and foreign celebration like Halloween.
In the video below, the Carrefour grocery store chain threw a little Halloween dance for customers.
Don’t let that stop you.
Despite all the anti-Halloween sentiment, it’s not hard to find those who want to embrace it. This is problematic for some people who think it’s almost unpatriotic to embrace such a blatant Anglophone (read American) celebration. Not my words.
I grew up in a multicultural home with a Thai mother and a French-Canadian father. We often celebrated various Thai celebrations that no one knew about locally. My favourite was Songkran, the Thai water festival.
No one batted an eye.
Likewise, when you’re in France, you don’t need to abandon your family customs and traditions, such as Halloween.