Voila! “All finished. You can go and….”
Before I had a chance to finish my sentence, she popped out of her chair and bolted past me. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched her stare at herself in the mirror for what seemed like an eternity.
I paid $19.99 for her frilly blue fairy costume and matching blue fairy wings at TJ Maxx ( a popular discount home and clothing store in the states). To complete her Gothic fairy / zombie costume, I used some of my makeup and carefully applied some dark eyeshadow on her eye lids and made some dark circles under her eyes. She didn’t look quite scary enough for my taste so I drew some fake stitches across her forehead.
“Well? What do you think Catherine?”
I knew she was impressed because all I heard was this long “WOOOOOOW”.
“Alright kids, lets go find a restaurant at the Old Port”.
After I finished applying Catherine’s scary Halloween makeup, I decided to take all three kids (ages 4, 13 and 15 at the time) out to eat rather than take them trick-or-treating. Not because they didn’t want to go trick or treating but because we lived in the centre of Marseille where there were not houses- only dense apartment style buildings.
Instead, we took a 15 minutes walk from our 5th floor apartment located near Saint Charles train station in Marseille to the old port. To my surprise, we didn’t see one person dressed up for Halloween. The same was true at the restaurant. Not even a sad little Halloween poster. Nothing!
“Hmmm, that’s strange.”
That was then and this is now and after several years living in France, I’ve learned that Halloween is somewhat of a controversial and confusing holiday to the French.
Halloween Controversy In France: Why are so many French people so adverse to Halloween?
The first thing you need to understand is that most (not all) French people view Halloween very differently.
Unlike Canadians, Americans or even British folks, the average French person DOES NOT see Halloween as a family friendly event where kids get to dress up as anything they want and go trick-or-treating with friends and family.
Non non non mon ami. The average French person sees Halloween as morbid, superficial and/or a very commercial holiday imported from the United States.
There are many reasons why they view Halloween in this negative light but the simplest answer is this.
- It’s not a traditional holiday: First of all, Halloween is not a traditional French Holiday. This alone is enough to send most people up in arms over Halloween. They don’t see the reason behind the holiday like they do in Easter, Christmas or even mothers day. Those all seem like clear cut holidays we celebrate for a purpose. Fake blood, cutting up pumpkins instead of eating them and going from house to house for candy? What’s the point? Bah humbug.
- Halloween is new to the French: It’s a known fact that people like to stay in their comfort zone. New things or things that people don’t understand can turn people off. Halloween fits the bill because prior to the 1990’s, it was relatively unknown to the AVERAGE French person.
- They don’t know how to celebrate it: Because of it’s newness, a lot of people didn’t grow up celebrating it and they just don’t know or are not sure HOW to celebrate it.
- Bad timing: Halloween has the miss-fortunate luck of occurring the day before an all important and very old Catholic holiday called La Toussaint (All saints day) on the 1st of November when French people visit cemeteries and freshen up their loved ones tombstones with fresh flowers.
- They can’t pronounce it: I have had countless friends mention that they don’t know how to pronounce Halloween. Something must happen when a whole nation cannot pronounce a word.The H is silent in French so the French pronounce it ( A-Lo-EEN).
- CRASS COMMERCIALISM: Many (not all) French grocery stores, bakeries, small shops and companies use Halloween imagery in their ads and shop windows to sell more products and drum up more business. This type of crass commercialism has solidified the notion that Halloween is a very commercial holiday which apparently has left a very bad taste in the mouths of most French people.
All of these things add up to a colossal Halloween fail in France. Don’t take my word for it, here is one of many articles (in French) urging other citizens NOT to celebrate..
Like this one. 10 Reasons NOT to celebrate Halloween.
How do the French celebrate Halloween?
The few French who do celebrate Halloween in France tend to be adults or teenagers who attend parties at friends’ homes, bars, clubs, restaurants and other gatherings. My understanding is that Teenagers find it trendy and cool to get dressed up for Halloween.
Trick-or-treating from door to door on the other hand is extremely rare in France. We have had no more than three trick-or-treaters ring our doorbell on any given year. Compare that to the 50 plus trick-or-treaters we used to get when we lived in Belmont California.
No cute costumes- only scary ones.
Another difference in how Halloween is celebrated is the costumes. In France, Halloween costumes tend to be more scary in the traditional sense. Think vampires, ghosts, witches and goblins rather than cute costumes like princesses, superheroes, cowgirls and turtles.
If you dress up as a princess or some other cute costume in France, people might actually think that you are dressing up for Mardi Gras rather than Halloween.
If you do dress up in a non scary costume for Halloween, your bound to confuse some French people.
I posted some photos of a Halloween party our family went to on Facebook and one of my French friends thought our cowboy and Indian costumes looked more like Mardi gras costumes rather than scary Halloween costumes. (Mardi Gras aka Fat Tuesday, occurs the day before Ash Wednesday and 47 days before Easter).
What about pumpkins?
Traditionally, pumpkins are not a popular food in France so forget about taking the kids to a pumpkin patch. I’ve read that there are some pumpkin patches located just outside of Paris but I have never actually seen or been to one myself.
So when I saw pumpkins for sale at our local grocery store, I was not only shocked but delighted. I even took a picture of it with my camera phone.
I did find it strange that they called it a “jack lanterne” and not a pumpkin. (the French word for pumpkin is Citrouille). I suppose they can sell more pumpkins if they call them Jack Lanterne’s which only fortifies the belief that Halloween is a commercial holiday.
We never actually carved our pumpkin because I ended up making pumpkin pie for the very first time which actually turned out pretty damn good.
That’s another thing. French people aren’t really into sweet pumpkin pie. At least the ones we met were not. Oh well, My husband and son loved my homemade pumpkin pie.
My recommendation on how to celebrate Halloween in France
I am not sure if Halloween will ever be as huge as it is in the United States, Canada and Ireland but for expats like us who live in France and want to celebrate it, here are my suggestions.
- Throw your own Halloween party and invite your neighbours, your kids friends and their parents or co-workers.
- Sure take the kids trick- or-treating if you want but like I said, trick-or-treaters are rare and finding a house that actually has candy is even rarer.
- Search for Halloween parties at bars or restaurants in your area. It is after all a rather commercial holiday so some businesses will actually celebrate it in order to lure in customers.
- Go to Disneyland for Halloween in Paris. We did in 2013 and it was actually a blast. We rented a house from airbnb.com and bought our tickets online.
- Go to the movies.
- Do like most French people and DO NOTHING on Halloween!
- If you are near an area with shops and businesses, you can take the kids trick or treating to those businesses which are open. Many will have candy on hand to pass out to the children.
- Look for any locally advertised events. For instance in Montpellier at the Franco-American centre they hold an annual halloween party for kids.
Hope you had a great Halloween.
I leave you with this French Canadian song that small children learn in Quebec Canada. It is called “C’est L’Halloween”.