Do Children Celebrate Halloween in France?
This month, Beth shares her scary Halloween stories, but do children really celebrate Halloween in France? Or is it just a great opportunity reserved for American teenagers, the young at heart and naughty adults to have a fun night on a cold and dark winter evening?
Although Halloween is not a widely celebrated holiday in France, it is not completely ignored. In recent years, Halloween has gained more popularity here, particularly among kids. While it is not as common as in the United States, children may still dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating. Some schools may also hold Halloween events or take children on scary châteaux visits… over to you Beth.
"Boo! It’s almost that time of year when skeletons are hung from ceilings, and kids of all ages take to the streets in ghoulish gear. It’s Halloween, popular in the US, UK, and many other countries, but is it the same here? Ironically, not so much. But why, ironically?
The roots of Halloween are found in the festival of Samhain. A Gaelic word, it’s a pagan religious festival derived from an ancient Celtic spiritual tradition. The ritual celebrated the harvest at the end of summer when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off evil spirits. The French are primarily a Celtic people, yet despite this, come 31 October, there isn’t quite the same celebratory fervour. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan and in France for Halloween, don’t despair. France takes scary to a whole new level.
Love Haunted Châteaux?Most French regions are bristling with them. Brittany, for example, invites visitors to the Château de Suscinio in Sarzeau, where a ghostly child regularly appears. There’s also the Château de Combourg, where the Count of Combourg tappety taps on his wooden leg, haunting the castle corridors with his black cat. Not sure I’d want to bump into him. The northeast offers similarly unsettling château experiences, including a tour by flashlight of Château de Chantilly. It takes place as darkness falls. That’s masterfully creepy.
Celebrate Halloween in ParisParis comes alive with ghouls during the season. Family fun can be had at le Parc Astérix, where visitors are assured a horribly good time. Also, Disneyland Paris, where a frightfully fun experience is guaranteed. And as we all know, Paris, like most major cities, has had its share of dreadful events. For the more courageous, there are other sites to visit.
The Paris Catacombs contain one of the strangest cemeteries in the city, and it’s twenty metres below ground. In 1800, the bones from cemeteries closed for health reasons were gathered and moved to underground quarries forming ossuaries. Once seen, never forgotten. If bones aren’t your thing, you might enjoy an alternative evening at the Rodin Museum with its ‘Welcome to Hell’ event. I’m unsure what happens there, but I believe it involves devilish shadows.
Paris Cemetery & Haunted ToursAt this time of the year, the Pere Lachaise cemetery is another popular tourist destination. It is the most-visited necropolis in the world, set in 43 hectares and comprising 70,000 burial plots. The cemetery showcases a stunning array of family mausoleums, ornate sepulchres, ancient family chapels, and funerary art, some are said to be haunted. The most visited graves are Jim Morrisson (The Doors who died in Paris at 27), Edith Piaf, Frédéric Chopin, Maria Callas, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Marceau, Molière, Louis Ernest Ladurée the founder of the famous macaron empire amongst thousands of others.
Witches & Ghosts in BurgundyIf you want to be terrified in Burgundy, head to the Château d’Ancy le Franc. Curses echo around the corridors as witches, zombies, and ghosts patrol the first floor. And if you’re in Provence, why not accept the invitation to be scared witless at Château de la Gaude? The promise is of an elegantly disturbing evening. It sounds fun.
In the southwest, plenty is going on. The extraordinary UNESCO fortification, Carcassonne, a personal favourite, offers visitors a gruesome spectacle as they explore the medieval streets, ramparts and mighty towers. And if you’re feeling extra brave, why not visit the haunted house? It’s the kind of tour where, try as you might to suffocate them, at least one scream’ll pop out.
Forgotten in the 'Oubliettes'Plenty of medieval châteaux in our area bear the vestiges of a violent age. Visit one of these, let your imagination run riot, and you have the potential for wonderfully Halloweeny experiences. Arrow slits in walls, meurtrières, murder holes used by defenders to hurl or pour harmful unpleasantries such as rocks or boiling oil down on attackers, and of course, most fortifications have dungeons. Some also have a nightmarish oubliette, the ‘forgotten room’. This was a tiny, vertical shaft, often only large enough for an individual to stand up in. Honestly? They don’t bear thinking about.
Celebrating All Saints Day
So, how do the French celebrate Halloween? The event is largely upstaged by La Toussaint (All Saints Day) on 1 November, which honours the dead. Coinciding with school holidays, families celebrate with a feast and by laying flowers on loved ones’ tombs and graves. Chrysanthemums are traditionally used, so you’ll see them for sale everywhere you go in France at the moment.
Scary Medieval PartiesFor those who are involved in Halloween, expect scary costumes. The French don’t hold back when it comes to dressing up. Last month, I went to a Fête Médiévale with a theme of life and death in the Middle Ages, and they majored in the deliciously gory elements of death. Despite being billed as a light-hearted educational family event, some poor children looked positively traumatised by the paraphernalia.
Children Scream, des Bonbons ou un Sort!Halloween is slowly becoming more popular, especially with the younger generation in France, though you wouldn’t know it in our rural backwater. Children who take to the rues will probably dress in alarmingly creepy gear. They’re unlikely to knock on the door and cry, ‘Trick-or-treat?’ instead, they’ll demand, ‘des bonbons ou un sort?’ (sweets or a spell?), which amounts to the same thing.
As for food, supermarkets currently stock a variety of themed confectionary, including the antioxidant-packed beignets à la citrouille (pumpkin doughnuts). Served in a hollowed-out pumpkin, they’re the ideal treat to celebrate the festivities. You should try one; they’re delicious.
Whatever you have planned for this spooky season, we hope you enjoy a Happy Halloween!"
Thank you @Beth as always, we hope you’ve recovered from the scary Medieval Fete experience. Personally, I was spooked when visiting the Montauban medieval chateau fort, at the tender age of 9 or 10. I am still having dreams about those oubliettes, they might have inspired Edgar Poe!