I doubt Halloween in France will ever be as successful as it is in the United States, Canada or the UK, but there are enough options for adults and parents visiting or living in France to keep you in the Halloween spirit.
Understanding how Halloween is (and isn’t) celebrated in France.
Whether you’re an adult or a parent with young children, if you come from a country that celebrates Halloween and are wondering how you can celebrate while visiting or living in France, there are a few things you should know. Here are 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Halloween In France But Should.
When I first moved to France, something that surprised me was the general disdain many (not all) French people felt for Halloween. A feeling which is mainly driven by the fact that French people view Halloween as a commercial celebration imported from America. I wrote an in-depth article about Why The French Hate Halloween here.
Once you understand how Halloween is viewed in France, and how those that embrace Halloween celebrate it, you’ll have a much easier time planning and celebrating it with your children and friends in France.
Let’s get started.
Dressing up for Halloween:
Forget cute costumes: Kids and adults usually dress up in scary costumes for Halloween in France!
Halloween costumes in France tend to be scary and ghoulish in the traditional sense. Think vampires, ghosts, witches and goblins rather than beautiful princesses, superheroes, cute cowgirls and turtles.
The year our daughter dressed up as a Cowgirl, I posted photos of her on my Facebook page. Many of my French friends who left me comments were confused about why our daughter was dressed for Mardi-gras instead of something scary for Halloween.
Below is the photo I posted and a screenshot of a couple of Facebook comments.
Why all the confusion with the cowgirl costume?
The confusion with my daughter’s cute cowgirl costume has to do with what happens at Mardi-Gras during the Carnival season.
Mardi gras costumes tend to be cute and whimsical.
In France, children in preschool through primary school are invited to dress up in costumes for carnival and parade around the schoolyard. There’s usually music, snacks and parents are invited to watch the parade.
So when my friends saw my daughter dressed in a cute costume, they immediately thought of Carnival and mardi-gras costumes.
You’ve heard of Mardi-Gras and Carnival, but do you know what it is or how it’s celebrated? Here’s a look at how, when, where and why it’s celebrated in France. It’ll all make sense soon.
Pumpkins in France:
Finding pumpkins can be a challenge in France
Squash is fairly popular in France, especially “potiron,” think elongated squash like butternut. Potimarron is also very popular in France. Depending on where you’re from, in English Potimarron are called Red-Kuri, Onion squash or Japanese squash.
Pumpkins, on the other hand, are not so common and sometimes very difficult to find.
Over the years, I’ve seen pumpkins for sale here in there in a few of the larger supermarkets like Carrefour, but it’s hit or miss around Halloween time. When I have seen pumpkins for sale, they’re usually not labelled “Citrouille,” which is the French word for pumpkin. I’ve seen them labelled as “jack lanterne,” “potiron Jack O’lanterne” or “Citrouille Jack O’lanterne.” But never just “citrouille.”
Don’t expect your French friends to gobble down your pumpkin pie.
If you’d like to make pumpkin pie “Tarte à la Citrouille,” you’ll have to make it from scratch because canned pumpkins don’t exist in France. And if you can’t find pumpkins or sugar pumpkins for your pie recipe, look for “les Potimarron” and make a Tarte au Potimarron.” A Potimarron is smaller and more orange than a Classique pumpkin and relatively easy to find in October.
When some of my French friends tried pumpkin pie for the first time, they made squinty faces. It was painful to watch.
The sweet pumpkin pie ingredients, combined with the pumpkin’s flesh, is foreign to many French people who are more accustomed to savoury squash recipes. So make a backup dessert, just in case.
Can’t find pumpkins? Carve these instead.
If you can’t find pumpkins, try learning the ancient art of carving turnips, the original Jack O’lanterne. Other things you can carve include butternut squash, potatoes and rutabagas.
I wrote all about it here: Why you should carve turnip jack-o-lantern for Halloween, not a pumpkin.
Go to a squash festival instead of a pumpkin patch:
Pumpkin patches don’t really exist in France. I’ve read that some pumpkin patches are located just outside of Paris; however, I’ve never seen or been to one myself.
The good news is, I discovered something even better than a pumpkin patch. It’s a squash festival, which is basically a big outdoor market where vendors sell a gazillion types of squash which they spread out on tables for people to buy. The one near our house is called “Fête de la Courge et des Fruits d’Automne.” These squash festivals usually occur between September and October and can last for a few days to a few weeks.
Trick-or-Treating In France:
Forget door-to-door, try shop-to-shop instead.
Because Halloween isn’t embraced in France like it is in other counties, most people don’t purchase candy to pass out to children when they come knocking. That doesn’t mean kids don’t trick or treat in France because some do.
As strange as it may sound, some shops and restaurants have gotten into the habit of passing out candy to kids dressed up in Halloween costumes.
Bigger cities and towns with a concentration of shops and restaurants, such as Paris, Lyon or Montpellier, to name a few, are a gold mine of candy for the kids.
Unfortunately, if you live in a rural area or the French countryside where there is no concentration of shops and restaurants, then your fun-filled night of trick-or-treating is going to be pretty short.
What’s it like Trick-or-treating in a big French city: Medieval Montpellier
I wanted to take a minute to talk about celebrating Halloween in a big French city like Montpellier, which I think is a great place for parents to take their kids trick or treating.
Montpellier is a city sprawled out over 56 sq km (22 sq mi); however, the heart of the city, where all the action happens, is at “la place de la Comédie”- a large square adjacent to the historical centre called l’Écusson (named after its shape which resembles a coat of arms.)
You could spend days strolling up, down, and through narrow cobblestone streets of Montpellier’s historic centre, which twist and turn under stone arches that date back to the middle ages.
The best part is you don’t need to have a route planned because there are plenty of streets bustling with activity in a very small area.
Depending on where your feet take you, you’ll find an eclectic mix of trendy restaurants, quaint boutique hotels, shops, museums, open squares and a couple of massive Gothic churches. All of which give a chilly Halloween feel to the night for adults and children.
Don’t say trick-or-treat on Halloween in France.
If you’re hell-bent on taking the kids trick or treating in France, make sure the kids learn to ask for their treats properly in French.
Here are two popular phrases I’ve heard children use.
Both of these idiomatically mean the same thing as “trick or treat.” I’ve given the literal translation below.
- Des bonbons ou un sort! = Candies or a spell
- bêtises ou friandises = Mischief or sweets
There is also a third phrase I’ve heard children say, which is “Avez-Vous des bonbon,” which means ” do you have any candy?”
This last one has more to do with the fact that kids know that not everyone gives away candy, so they just come right out and ask.
Organize a Halloween Sleepover party
Everyone knows trick-or-treating with a group is way more fun than solo.
One particular year, we organized a Hybrid Halloween sleepover party- which involved trick-or-treating from shop to shop, followed by a pyjama party sleepover. We decided to have kids sleepover rather than have parents come and pick them up late at night.
Keep in mind that Halloween happens during an important French celebration and school holiday called “La Toussaint” (all saints day). French families often take a short holiday during this period so kids may be away on vacation. Here is a Complete List Of French Public Holidays in France Explained + Timeline
Organize a Halloween party for adults and children
Some of our friends over the years have thrown Halloween parties, which, by the way, is a great way to meet new people.
Throw a French style (Apéro Dinatoire) with Halloween themed food
If you want to impress your friends, take a page out of the French dinner party playbook and host an “apéro dînatoire,” which is a more elegant way of saying “finger food buffet and drinks.” Not to be confused with a cocktail party where guests have a few hors d’oeuvres. At an apéro dînatoire, your guests eat the equivalent of a whole meal of finger foods.
Don’t forget the Halloween decorations.
Most French people have never seen a house decked out for Halloween. So why not deck the house out with black cats, bats and spider webs.
I like to play spooky video loops on our TV using Google Chromecast. You can find a bunch of haunted music and video loops on youtube.
Food to serve at a French Halloween party:
Cauliflower skull head on a veggie platter.
This was a big hit at one of our parties. You can get the directions to make the skull cauliflower head here. Don’t forget the dip.
We filled a large punch bowl with blood and frozen eyeballs, which were just frozen lychee stuffed with a blueberry floating in red strawberry soda. We made the eyeballs ahead of time, and the effect was chilling and delicious. You can get the recipe here.
Brain Rice Crispy treats:
While looking for Halloween food ideas, we found a disgustingly realistic recipe for rice crispy treats brains. They seemed easy enough to make, but it did take a few tries to get it right.
A cheese plate is a must-have at any French apéro dînatoire party. But it’s not very Halloween like until you throw some plastic flies and spiders on the plate.
Get dressed up and go to Disneyland Paris for Halloween
One particular year we went to Disneyland Paris on Halloween, and it was terrific.
The whole park gets a Halloween makeover from October to November in celebration of this ghoulish holiday. I guarantee your entire family will love it.
Search for Halloween parties at bars or restaurants in your area.
In larger cities, especially in Paris, you’ll find bars and restaurants with special events for Halloween.
Go to the Catacombs in Paris
Go deep into the bowels of Paris and visit the Catacombs, a long series of winding tunnels that hold the remains of bones from casualties of war and unearthed cemeteries that used to exist around the city. Truly an eerie place to visit, especially during Halloween.
Watch a scary movie on Halloween in French.
If you can’t find a showing for The Rocky Horror picture show, I bet you’ll be able to find a scary movie to watch on Halloween.
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