Expat Magazine

All Saints and All Souls in France

By Sedulia @Sedulia

The holidays of All Saints and All Souls, November 1st and 2nd, are ancient ones, going back to "our ancestors the Gauls" or Celts, who thought that at this time of year the door opened between the living and the dead. This led to the Celtic Samhain or Halloween, and was so widely observed in pre-Christian Europe that the Christian church co-opted it into a holy day. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em! (This was also the case with Christmas, which was conveniently moved to coincide with the Teutonic Yule and the Roman Saturnalia.)

It came as a bit of a surprise when I moved to France that this vigilantly secular nation still keeps so many Catholic national holidays: Toussaint (all saints), Pentecost, Ascension, and Assumption, not to speak of Christmas and Easter. At Toussaint, the schoolchildren of France get a ten-day holiday.

Even though most French people these days never set foot in a church, it is still a widely observed custom to visit the cemetery on All Saints' Day and put flowers on the graves of your loved ones. Carnations are the favorite, and for this reason, you are not supposed to give carnations as a present or bring them to a dinner party.

I like Paris cemeteries because they have such interesting graves, and often you wander by some famous person, especially at Père Lachaise (the most beautiful one), Montmartre, Montparnasse and Passy. General Lafayette, the war hero of the American revolution, is buried at the Picpus cemetery near Nation. The American flag over his grave was left to fly during the entire Nazi occupation of France.


"We were married for 70 years. My grief is very great. Your eyes closed, and mine don't stop weeping. Your inconsolable husband." A bittersweet inscription at the Montmartre Cemetery

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